Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy ends up being a major disappointment to me in every way, especially regarding the contributions of actor Gary Oldman (Immortal Beloved) and composer Alberto Iglesias (Talk to Her). Who could ever forget Oldman’s nihilistic streak in Leon (1994) or the way in which Iglesias came up with shifting tonalities in his music for The Constant Gardener (2005), an artistic achievement akin to an ever-changing ocean current? None of this range exists in either man’s work for yet another adaptation of the John Le Carré story.
The film’s miniscule plot follows an investigation by George Smiley (Oldman) as he tracks down a Russian mole within his own secret intelligence service, known as “the Circus.” Not much else can be said for any hidden layers within the story as it lacks any worthwhile subtext or killer twist, even towards the end of two hours.
The pacing more closely resembles an athlete suffering with a hamstring injury than the quality of work one has come to expect from British cinema. Another crucial element which takes a hammering involves the film’s tone. Quite simply, the movie doesn’t know what it wants to be. Therefore, it has no shape whatsoever. Director Tomas Alfredson seems out of his depth, hinting at double meanings and clues which fail to lead anywhere. Like the equally unimpressive Page Eight (2011), which aired this year on British television, the problem appears to be confusion of purpose. My advice to makers of suspense thrillers like these? Avoid sacrificing logic in favour of a slight contradiction. In other words, don’t think so much.
Technically, the film neither looks nor feels very professionally handled. It all starts with the opening image (which is too dark) and then moves onto screenplay deficiencies. Writers Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan overlook certain minor characters, including Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) and Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds). The overall impression they leave with the audience feels less than complete or favourable. For that, blame editor Dino Jonsater, who makes so many egregious errors he’s like an English teacher with no sense of grammar here.
As of this writing, the early buzz for Oldman suggests this picture will bring him an Oscar nomination. If that happens, it doesn’t bode well for the standards of the Academy Awards this year. Yes, Oldman’s acting is understated, yet I came away from watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy profoundly unmoved by the whole experience.
(Released by Optimum Releasing in the UK on September 16, 2011, and by Focus Features in the USA on December 9, 2011. Rated “R” for violence, some sexuality/nudity and language.)