Movie Review: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”

16 Jan

I’m definitely a fan of Cold War-era spy thrillers (Clancy, Ludlum, etc.), not to mention John le Carré’s classic “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.” Thus, when I heard that a Hollywood production of le Carré’s best-known novel – “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” – was in the works, I was optimistic. The cast looked stellar – Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, and Colin Firth, just to name a few – and early reviews were glowing.

Rarely have I been so wrong about a movie. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” ranks among the worst films I have ever seen.

The plot is incomprehensible. A full hour into the movie, all I had ascertained was that “there is a mole at the highest level of British Intelligence, and retired spymaster George Smiley has been called in to find the mole.” This should have been an intense, tautly plotted thriller – especially given its fascinating setting and straightforward plot. Instead, viewers are treated to a montage of dull, disjointed interactions between lifeless characters.

Several problems stand out as particularly egregious. For starters, there’s virtually no dialogue, which makes it difficult from the get-go to understand what’s happening. There is also a serious problem with identifying characters – while the same faces turn up throughout the movie, their names are mentioned once in a muttered whisper, which makes it next-to-impossible to tell who is who. The film also relies on a nonlinear narrative structure – a technique employed beautifully in films like “Memento,” but one that’s utterly botched here. The time frame is consistently murky, which negates any suspense or tension.

Most crucially, however, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is stupendously dull. 95% of the movie may be summarized as “aging British men talk in decrepit London rooms.” From a filmmaking standpoint, this plays out as “two characters exchange three or four meaningless sentences in a decaying office, and then two more characters exchange three or four equally meaningless sentences in a decaying living room. Repeat pattern for the next two hours.” That’s not to say that a movie can’t be subtle – but these characters are paper-thin robots sleepwalking through an uninteresting plot.

I am perfectly comfortable appreciating difficult movies (“The Fountain” is one of my all-time favorites) but “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is utterly devoid of substance. A slow-paced film like “The Tree of Life” explores deeply spiritual and meaningful themes, but there is no such subtext at work here. If I felt that the aesthetics of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” were communicating a particular message, this review would be less harsh. But there’s simply very little to praise in this movie.

Objectionable content in the movie (which carries an R rating) comes in the form of briefly glimpsed nudity, a handful of f-words, and one or two bloody shootings. More objectionable than any of these elements, however, is the fact that two irretrievable hours of one’s life are wasted on this film. There’s no intriguing worldview underlying this film, other than “life is miserable, dull, and fragmented.”

While the set design is impeccable, this movie is a complete and total failure. (I would have labeled this movie a “train wreck,” but a train wreck would be far more interesting than this film.) I found it to be a waste of $10 and two hours. You will likely feel the same.

2 stars because of good staging and set design. That’s it.

Normalized Score: 0.0


Posted by on January 16, 2012 in Historical


2 responses to “Movie Review: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”

  1. Helen K

    March 24, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    I enjoyed your review of this and was not surprised. We watched the version with Sam Nelson (I think) from Netflix.


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