This movie has been very high up on my watchlist ever since I saw the trailer. I don’t know how I happen to come by this title, but once I saw the trailer and the cast, I was sold. Much like the film itself, where the trailer really excels is in matching the music to the tone. It starts off with a single low note pounded out repeatedly (piano? strings?), and is then joined by urgent strings and a frenetic background beat, before the cello(?) soars straight in in with a very dark, very mournful solo. The drum-beat at the end is wonderfully synchronised with the appearance of the cast’s names – not a tacky matching of beat to materialisation of words, but where the words appear somewhere in between the beats. It’s difficult to explain why that should work better, but it does, so take a look yourself.
A friend put it best: “If you think Inception is confusing…”. The most common phrase bandied about in the user reviews on IMDb has got to be “difficult to follow”. I must agree. I sat through the first quarter of the film with absolutely no inkling about what was going on; at times it feels as though the film-makers were deliberately trying to make it impossible for the audience to understand what was going on, what with the series of unrelated and oftentimes unnecessary shots, the frantic editing, the jumping back and forth in chronology and the cutting between sets. The smoke clears about the time when Tom Hardy’s Ricki Tarr character appears at George Smiley’s flat recounting his adventures, “from Russia with love”, and it is then that the different story threads seem to settle into a more coherent mess, and you begin to get a grasp of the enormous cast of characters. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is hard to follow not because of misleads and red herrings that keep the audience guessing between the identity of the real spy, but because the way central character George Smiley arrives at his deductions isn’t immediately – or indeed eventually – obvious. If you watch the film conscientiously you can follow the overall story arc, all the way to the final revelation, but it’s impossible to fully understand it – unless, perhaps, you’ve read the book beforehand. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy keeps you thinking hard – not about who the spy is or how the clues add up (surprise), but about what
the hell is actually going on on-screen. You have to keep thinking to follow the film, as my headache was a testament to.
For that reason I understand this film isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Hell, I haven’t had to think so hard just to understand any film before. But if the plot and the revelations didn’t exactly pay off, the cast and the tone of the film certainly did.
This is a wonderfully assembled cast, each of whom play their roles like they were born in that character’s skin. Gary Oldman delivers an understatedly brilliant performance as central character George Smiley. He’s solid all the way through in playing a character who seems to be the only one who understands the situation. Tom Hardy plays his roguish charm well, evident in Inception and in full force here. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a tensed, wired performance here as Peter Guillam, the guy Smiley sends into the lion’s den to retrieve information. It’s a far cry from the unflappable, cocksure character he plays in BBC’s marvelous series Sherlock. His Peter is a sharp contrast to Hardy’s Ricki, who, despite being on the run from both sides, always seems careless and languid. John le Carre, the author of the book, has crafted a very memorable group of characters – even the supporting characters, for all the little screen time they get, stick with you.
That’s partly the reason the film is so engaging. For all my trouble following the story I was never once tempted to give up. I simply couldn’t look away. Another part of the reason goes right down to the tone of the movie. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a very atmospheric film. The music has a large part to play in this – it cannot be said enough how perfectly the score evokes that bleak Cold War era feel; even in the quietest scene it’s there in the background, like an embodiment of the mole in the film who was hidden right in the open – but the camera-work contributed as greatly to establishing that oppressive tone. The stormy colour palette makes the film come across as being seen through almost monochromatic filters, and close-ups are very effectively utilised.
See this one. See this one again and again. If not for how finely crafted it is, then just so you understand the plot.
Rating on Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Rating on IMDb: 7.1
Viewing history: Seen 1x. DVD rental.