One of the things we critics like to do—nay, must do—is watch movies from a different perspective. Sure, in the end, it really boils down to whether or not we were entertained by a movie, but it’s not as simple as saying one is good or bad. We have to explain why it’s good or bad. We have to look at things a normal moviegoer wouldn’t, like shot composition, art direction and cinematography. When we watch a performance, we have to explain what makes it so great or why that actor should be in some other line of work. We have to give points to a movie that is well made, even if it bores us to tears. That’s why, in the end, I’ll be recommending Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but I never, until the day I die, want to see it again.
When the film begins, British Intelligence agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) is on his way to Hungary to gather vital information from a Hungarian general, but things go wrong and he is shot and captured by the Soviets. Back home, after the attention from the incident escalates, George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is forced into retirement. However, there is suspicion of a mole in British Intelligence who is leaking secret documents to the reds, so the head of intelligence, Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney), decides to pull Smiley out of retirement and tasks him with finding the traitor.
Credit much (no, all) of that plot synopsis to Wikipedia because Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one confusing movie. Little is outright explained in it and unless you’re familiar with certain British secret service terminology (it took me close to an hour to realize that when they talked about “The Circus” they were referring to themselves), you’re likely to get lost. From its opening frame to its closing moments, the film boggles the mind, which is both good and bad. In a way, it’s great to see a movie that refuses to dumb down its material, but at the same time, it’s far too convoluted for its own good. It’s one of those movies that probably makes perfect sense if you’re paying close attention, but it’s so slow and drags for so many long stretches that such attentiveness is impossible. Those who have never had a problem focusing on something may begin to come down with a temporary ailment of ADD.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a tale of espionage and government control that is inherently interesting, but it’s handled in a slow, uninteresting manner, similar to something like The Lives of Others, another movie that was artistically well made, but needed to pick up the pace a bit (but at least it wasn’t confusing). Still, one can’t deny the skill that went into this film’s production. It’s shot and directed extremely well and the acting is affecting, though I’m not quite sure it’s awards worthy as many are suggesting. If walking around silently and never smiling makes an Oscar worthy performance (which is precisely what Gary Oldman does for two hours straight), then grumpy uncles and grandparents the world over should take up acting.
The best performance in the film comes from Tom Hardy, who dazzled in last year’s Inception and one of this year’s best, Warrior. Once again, he is proving himself to be more than worthy of attention. With that said, despite a plethora of performances that range from good to great, there’s a disconnect between the characters and audience. No reason to care about what is happening is ever given. The connate mystery of such a story is certainly intriguing, but it’s not enough to make the audience feel anything. I may not have always understood what the characters were saying, but more importantly, I didn’t care. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy just isn’t appealing in any way other than the appreciation it will surely garner from film buffs. I’m one of those film buffs so I recognize its strengths, but even the thought of watching it again makes my eyelids heavy.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy receives 2.5/5