Sunday, April 22, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) ***½

R, 127 min.
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writers: Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan, John le Carré (novel)
Starring: Gary Oldman, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Firth, Kathy Burke, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Graham, Simon McBurney, Tom Hardy, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, Stuart Graham, Konstantin Khabenskiy

I’ve heard a good deal of people comment that the British spy flick “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”, based on the novel by John le Carré, is confusing. I suppose I can understand such comments, but the basic plot isn’t confusing at all. Set in the 70’s, in the bleakest days of the Cold War, it comes to the attention of MI6 that there is a double agent in the upper echelons of the British spy agency, in the leadership division known as “Circus”. Retired agent George Smiley is recruited to smoke out the mole.

Now, the way in which this is presented could make it all clear as mud, if you let it. With a broken chronology for the narrative, a huge cast of characters, and spy jargon dialogue, this could become overwhelming to an audience expecting a typical spy thriller. This movie is a chess game compared to the rugby matches that most filmgoers are used to in movies like “Mission: Impossible” and “The Bourne Ultimatum”. It’s no mistake that one of the characters uses chess pieces to line up the possible suspects.  

This spy game is a waiting game. Like in chess, Smiley must wait for all the pieces to line up just right before he can make his move for check. The production is filled with an incredible cast of British actors, both veterans, like Gary Oldman and Colin Firth, and rising stars, like Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy and Mark Strong. They all play their roles as if engaged in a high concentration competition, very much like a chess match.

It’s a pleasure of sorts to be able to sit back and just watch a spy plot unfold, rather than sit on the edge of your seat trying to anticipate it. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is a rare thriller in the way it unfolds more like a spy game might in reality. Mistakes are made, but everything does not always lie in the next pivotal moment. It’s more about how the overall game is played. I’d like to see more of the George Smiley stories told on screen.

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