Monday, January 2, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was a pretty good film once it got underway. Oh yes, it takes its own sweet while to get there; the leisurely non-dramatic build-up may put some off and I won't blame them. There are several unannounced timeline shifts that require you to keep attentive track of what's going on. Also the film is, at least from my theatrical experience, shot in low contrast extremely dim lighting, possibly as a visual analogy to the murky goings-on of the plot. Gary Oldman heads the cast, which is mainly other Old Men (hur-hur); oh and there's Sherlock too, Benedict Cumberbatch, this time with blond hair. Most of them give fine performances (and Gary has a cracker scene mid-way where he talks about an encounter with the film's main nemesis), but John Hurt once again phones in - it's almost hard to believe now that he once brilliantly essayed The Elephant Man and Winston in the Michael Radford adaptation of 1984. The whodunit revelation at the end isn't particularly dramatic or meaningful, but this was a good diversion from the normal sort of film that shows up on screens here. The question now is, should I actually read any of that John Le Carre stuff?

Update: So I did see the 1979 TV mini-series with Alec Guiness playing George Smiley. There are definitely a great many of the usual advantages offered by the longer running time (Seven 45-min episodes). The story feels more coherent in its fleshed out avatar (no need for clumsy visual devices, like chess pieces with pictures of the suspects pasted over them), and many of the characters like Peter Guillam, Ricki Tarr and Jim Prideaux have some dimension here, unlike the cardboard dogsbodies of the film. Alexander Knox's solid performance as Control further exposes John Hurt's turn for the disgrace it is. There are more visual cues for each location shift (Tarr's stint in Lisbon comes off immensely better in terms of generating a different atmosphere) and it also helps that that there are none of the unannounced timeline jumps that made the 2011 feature a little hard to keep up with. But, blame my attention span, I still can't say I have the answers to all the stuff that happens in the plot. I won't discuss them here for fear of spoiling it for other unfamiliar with this watchable series - and very watchable it is, I'd intended to do one episode a day but ended up watching the last 3 without a break.
Which is not to say that everything in the series is better than in the film. For a crucial scene where Smiley encounters his Russian nemesis Karla, the film had Smiley simply recounting the incident to Guillam while the TV series gives us a flashback of the event....and it is the former approach that works better for me. It is one of those iconic moments which loses a little in actual presentation. As for Smiley, it's a toss-up between Alec Guiness' and Gary Oldman's performances. Both of them do a very fine job, with their personal auras bringing a wee different perspective to how you see the character. Alec is all old-world gentility and order, which makes it easier to accept how he is underestimated by his rivals. On the other hand, Gary brings a greater innate steel to the character that makes it more natural to see why the young hounds under his command would jump to do his bidding. Whatever your preference, each approach is enjoyable on its own merits.