The lives of intelligence agents must be hard. They serve their countries I hesitate to give a summary of the plot, as I’m not sure I understood it. The film is set during the Cold War, in England’s MI6 agency. There is a mole that has been funneling information to the Russians for years. The head of the organization, known as Control (John Hurt) has begun an operation to flush the leak out and seal it. His initial attempt proves to be disastrous, leading to firings, reorganizations and funding changes. The task then falls to an agent forced into retirement, silent veteran George Smiley (Gary Oldman). He begins following the trail of intrigue to the front offices of the very men he works with.
Beyond that, I can’t give any more information. Perhaps I’m not quite swift enough to follow the plot. Or, perhaps, the filmmakers have too much faith in the audience’s ability to decipher such a complex path. Things of great importance clearly happen. Strings of intrigue unravel as the film goes on, pointing toward the identity of the mystery man. I actually guessed the mole at the beginning of the film, but it was purely coincidental and not based on any concrete evidence. I just picked a character at random. My lack of understanding ultimately made the experience less than ideal. I don’t like feeling confused for that long. I can appreciate misdirection, but at times I felt that the film wasn’t interested in any sort of exposition or explanation. I need a little help to get my bearings. The film was similar to another spy film, “The Good Shepherd,” and suffered the same flaws. It needed less assumption on the part of the filmmakers.
The performances in the film are wonderful, of course. A film that casts such notable English actors as Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, John Hurt and Toby Jones is destined to be impressive and enjoyable. More than that, Tom Hardy continues to establish himself as a capable and talented actor with a wide range. The film was directed by Tomas Alfredson, who directed the exceptional vampire film “Let the Right One In,” and he brings similar pacing and atmosphere to this one. One specific technique that I found especially effective was how Smiley’s wife is never seen clearly. When she is seen, she is either just off screen or out of focus. There are two worlds in this film; neither can exist fully at the same time. Smiley is as blurry to his wife as she is to us. These agents exist fully in the world of their work, but appear ethereal in their personal lives. It was a clever way to portray a life in the shadows.
The visual style can’t undo the murkiness of the screenplay, however. The characters exist too much in their own worlds. While this certainly adds authenticity to the tone, it doesn’t help the audience engage with the action. We need to be given the opportunity to connect with the characters. In order to do that, we must be able to interpret and internalize their struggles. If the screenplay doesn’t translate effectively, the audience isn’t going to care.
“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” may be entertaining to fans of the book by John le Carré or to fans of the espionage genre. I wasn’t unhappy I saw the film. I like watching Gary Oldman play such diverse characters so effectively. There is a satisfying weariness to the characters, a deliberate choice made by the filmmakers to add realism and believability. The visual style was well crafted and executed. However, I require more clarity in the writing; this film is decidedly translucent.
“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”
Rated: R - Running time: 127 minutes
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Toby Jones
Director: Tomas Alfredsonloyally for years and years without acclaim. They cannot discuss their work, their successes or failures, and spend their lives listening at doorways. Glamour and adventure is an invention of Hollywood; there are no fast cars and loose women. Boredom and loneliness are more likely. Agents may spend decades under cover in assumed identities, funneling information to their superiors without understanding its importance. It is the life of a tool, functional and important, but replaceable and cheap. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” illustrates the realities of the shadow community—the solemn, graying men and women who give their lives to silence and secrecy. It is an intelligent film, to a fault, one that moves slowly and quietly, without explanation.