Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Of Spies and Sedatives


Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth

Review written by Robert Patrick

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy must have sounded like a great idea. An espionage thriller based on the acclaimed, serpentine book of the same name. Shifty-eyed spies in dapper suits, mulling around cafes and hiding behind baguettes, all while carrying around pistols under their pant legs. Once you have the plot from the 1974 book down, the next progression would be to hire a motley crew of all-star Brits that could embody the pressed collared secret service agents. Enter the dogged Gary Oldman, who looks like he stepped off the set of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, complete with Commissioner Gordon’s wardrobe on. Next would be to find the affable Colin Firth, the cantankerous John Hurt, and the dough-faced Toby Jones to round out the cast. The players in this film are not lacking in talent, surely, so this hardscrabble film about a Soviet double agent should be a crackerjack of movie, right? One would expect as much, especially with the visionary director of Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson, under the hood of this Spy vs. Spy thriller. And then, someone christened the ship for its voyage, and the ship sank in the harbor.

The film is ugly to look at, with its weathered reds and soiled grays, but the muted colors give Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a frayed authenticity. The set designs have that linty, squeaky-wheeled feel that you would expect from 1970s office interiors. So neither of these are problems. And then the screenplay stumbles in, looking as blocky as a Rubix cube and just as difficult to figure out. Husband and wife duo Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan are responsible for the oil spill on this story. The action, as listless and monochrome as it is, feels confusing, poorly edited, and without hand rails. Alfredson and his screenwriters made a film that is less a movie and more of a word problem.

For the cast being so rife with talent, they have, due to the muddy script, nothing to do but skulk around like reptiles in a glass tank. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants Gary Oldman to be enigmatic, calm, sharp and intuitive. But his presence on the screen makes him seem daft, impenetrable, and strangely vapid. The celebrated actor drags his feet and pedals his gums while saying nothing of importance. Colin Firth rarely appears in the movie. And John Hurt may as well be a cardboard cutout, as he does nothing but leer and stand idly by. There’s no rule against an espionage thriller being smart and captivating without perilous gun-play, but there needs to be, at the very least, interesting dialogue or chiseled character development. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy feels like a story waiting to happen, but instead gets stuck in a bottomless queue.

Most strangely is the way that the auspicious Alfredson directs this film. Flatlining heart monitors have more peaks and valleys than Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does. It’s hard to rate the film adaptation of John le Carre’s book, because not once, during the entire running time of the picture, did it actually feel a movie-going experience. What we have is a poorly executed film with a relatively well known book attached to its languid limbs. If you want to see John Hurt sit, without moving, you can look at internet stills of him on Google for free. No need to see this clunker.

1 out of 5

Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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