Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the newest film from Tomas Alfredson director of the new vampire classic Let the Right One In. It’s a thinking man’s spy film based on the book of the same name by author John le Carré. Gary Oldman stars as retired spy George Smiley. He’s brought out of retirement to suss out a supposed mole at the top of “the circus.” Besides Oldman, the film sports an all-star British cast and some impressive below-the-line craftwork. One of our Portland brethren, Nate, had a chance to watch the film about the same time as I did, so we thought what better time to pop his quibble cherry.
*THERE BE YON SPOILERS*
NATE: Biggest thing that I left with? Three gun shots. Spy movie with three gun shots. It’s the anti-M:I-4. You can tell people that and immediately know if they’ll like it or hate it.
BRYAN: Were there only 3? Let me think a sec. Yeah… 2 at the start and one at the end.
NATE: The beginning, the girl gets executed, and finally the end. 1-2-3.
BRYAN: Whoa, whoa… spoiler, dude. And that’s four shots. Dude shoots twice at the cafe.
NATE: Fine, fine, four. Three “action sequences,” if you can call them that.
BRYAN: The one that you spoiled is so fucking visceral. I kind of can’t wait for the director to do a real action film.
NATE: He is the master of subtly feeding you information.
BRYAN: Backing up a sec, you’re not ripping on M:I-4, you just dug the slow burn of this thriller, right?
NATE: Yes, yes, M:I-4 is the best popcorn movie of the year. This is simply its opposite.
BRYAN: I’m already sensing that you may have liked it a bit more than me.
NATE: I did like it, but it does have problems.
BRYAN: Well, before we praise it why don’t you say what didn’t work for you or what were those problems, “according to Nate.”
NATE: It most reminded me of another adaptation by a visual director A Very Long Engagement, a very complex novel shoved into 120 min.
BRYAN: I hadn’t thought about that film, but the comparison is apt. Are you familiar with the source material or original mini-series at all?
NATE: No, nothing. But you can feel the source material in it. It’s a dense movie and probably a symphony spread over a novel.
BRYAN: I guess my problem is a symptom of what you’re saying, which is the thing is a tad too complicated in its structure. Perhaps with more room to breathe this wouldn’t be such a problem.
NATE: Room like a four-hour mini-series?
BRYAN: Right. Although, maybe the confusion was part of the point.
NATE: How about Oldman? Make your list for actor this year?
BRYAN: He is really great in this movie. But this year is so crammed with great lead performances, he is right on the bubble as of now.
NATE: I think the barrage of information and complexity actually helped his performance, because never once did I doubt that this guy is on top of everything. I’m playing catch up and sorting it all out, Oldman just glares and then the attack comes not from the front, but from the sides, from the other two raptors you didn’t even know where there.
BRYAN: It’s a very meticulous character but the performance is natural. That’s not an easy thing to do. For instance, he is doing something crazy with his speech, his vocals, the whole movie, but you’d hardly know it.
NATE: Dare we say “too subtle”?
BRYAN: I don’t think so, maybe to get recognized with awards, but it is great work.
NATE: Fuck great work, Gary Oldman needs an Oscar.
BRYAN: The moment that sticks out is when he raises his voice. It’s almost shocking after barely speaking most the movie. And it kind of tells you a little something about what gets Smiley emotional.
NATE: He does it ONCE! One time this fucker loses his cool, and its to correct someone.
BRYAN: It wouldn’t be keeping with his character, but I wished he talked more cause I loved his cadence so much.
NATE: I could jerk-off Gary Oldman all day. He created this funky Boston by way of Manhattan accent for Jim Gordon. Invented an accent! Lets talk about the camera!
BRYAN: Wait a sec, now. One thing about the labyrinthine plot, I was lost for some of the film, and came out the other side with a firm enough grasp of what happened. There are just so many names and codes and flashbacks that it can be a challenge. The film is very dry and very subtle. BUT, the big but is, I feel like this is a film that will only get better on repeat viewings. It almost demands it.
NATE: So dense! Not just the spoken plot but the information Alfredson is giving you in each shot.
BRYAN: Which is your segue to the camera…
NATE: We talked earlier about the scene of Smiley swimming in the lake happening immediately after a scene that lightly let you knows its Christmas.
BRYAN: See, I think that was a flashback
NATE: Not part of the mass Christmas flashback that happens throughout.
BRYAN: Then I missed that. Me = dullard.
NATE: The file lady–who, by the way, has the sole job of taking files from the elevator to the safe–has a string on garland on her cart.
BRYAN: Missed that too, so need to rewatch this. The cinematography is pretty great but the real craft that stood out to me was the art direction and the costumes.
NATE: Mark Strong’s wig!
BRYAN: Each suit says so much about each character. They’re just suits for fuck’s sake, but they tell you everything.
BRYAN: Is this going to get gay?
NATE: Very gay. Very, very spoilerly. It’s again implied, not said, that Cumberbatch is gay. That man is not his father!
BRYAN: At first that stuff felt a little unnecessary but I realize now what it was trying to say about these spies and the life they lead. That’s where me being only interested in the mystery got in the way of the movie’s theme. Again, need to rewatch to better soak up all of this other business.
NATE: I think Firth is gay as well.
BRYAN: Or confused or something.
NATE: Both Firth and Cumberbatch are addressed as being “ladies men” by the office.
BRYAN: Cumberbatch’s tie says it all. It’s all just another deception.
NATE: Which leads to the scene where you see that Firth seduces Oldman’s wife.
BRYAN: Dude… spoiler. We need to put a muzzle on you.
NATE: And later says “it was only part of the job.” What a spy thing to do!
BRYAN: And the sets, with their drab dripped-in-beige Cold War gloom are astounding. The big box rooms inside of rooms.
NATE: This is an organization in decline.
NATE: They are the joke of the world.
BRYAN: It’s a great looking picture.
NATE: Always shot from behind something as well. It’s as if were not supposed to be watching these people.
BRYAN: So, Oldman is obviously top dog, but who did you think gave the best supporting turn?
BRYAN: Noting that everyone is great of course, I go Mark Strong.
NATE: Who lives in a trailer!
BRYAN: Then Firth.
NATE: I love Toby Jones playing power.
BRYAN: I bet after a second viewing it changes to Firth, but I was just so shocked Strong wasn’t the villain for once, I got to see a different range out of him. Yeah, it was almost confusing that he was the power grabber. Brilliant casting. Did you know Michael Fassbender was supposed to play Tom Hardy’s role? Did that just get you hard or what?
NATE: You think Fassbender would have been better than Hardy?
BRYAN: I have a terrible man crush on him right now, so hell-fucking-yes. How about they just both do a movie together. Why isn’t Fassbender in the new Batman!?!
NATE: Why isn’t Fassbender Batman…
BRYAN: Filled the cup. This must stop before it gets out of control. Any other thoughts?
NATE: Lots! I haven’t even started on how every character is a mirror of another. There’s so much to talk about and breakdown for a movie I still think is under performing as a whole, which is exactly my point.
BRYAN: It is meaty. Man meaty. Fassbender. See what you made me do? I have a problem.
NATE: Come on, Hitler, ill buy you a footlong…
BRYAN: I know what you’re saying, though. The film has great craft, great acting, and a densely layered spy plot. But it suffers a bit for the same things that make it great. However, I say again I think it will only age like a fine wine. But for now… Grade: B
NATE: I will agree. A complete harking back to the 60’s spy films with Michael Caine. Alfredson has a great English-language film in him, this isn’t it. Grade: B