One of the most memorable reasons people know about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tomas Alfredson’s enigma of a film about a mole in the upper echelons of the British Secret Intelligence, is that it was the film that finally, FINALLY got Gary Oldman an Academy Award nomination. I’ve seen Gary Oldman in many films; he’s one of my personal favorite actors, and I regard him as the chameleon of acting. Still, while it was a bit of a relief to see him finally get the nom, once I delved into Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy I have to admit, I was a little underwhelmed. Sure, he gives a fine performance, and completely becomes the character of George Smiley, but I’ve seen better work from him. Now, onto the rest of the film.
The plot helped me enjoy this more than I otherwise would have. I was highly invested in the film and the characters just so I could try and see if I could figure out who the mole was, though I knew in many ways it was a futile search. The film was a bit obfuscating in an intentional way, and in several ways. It assumes from the beginning of the film that we already know everything about everyone up to that point, which we don’t, so a lot of the storytelling or necessary information to get us acclimated is left out. The film also jumps back and forth through time, and there is no indication visually or dramatically that what we’re seeing is the present or the past, which made it rather hard to follow at times. This is just a very difficult film to keep pace with, even though the film’s pace itself is very plodding and slow. One of the first things I noticed on the technical side was Alfredson’s exceptional use of focus. It’s used as an aesthetic motivation, as a storytelling tool, really in any way that focus can be used in, it can be found here, and it was marvelous to pay attention to.
This is one of the most methodical films I’ve been a privy to; it shows the craftsmanship of a master filmmaker, but seems to eschew outright entertainment in order to do so. The highlight is the ensemble; everyone gives a fantastic performance, and there were a few names I mentally wrote down to keep tabs on for the near future. But, to watch this in order to be entertained by watching a movie, I sadly have to say, you are probably better off looking elsewhere. If you’re in the mood for a fine character study, an acting showcase, an intriguing mole hunt, or an exquisitely-made technical film, this might be more up your alley. Just be careful you don’t try too hard to be disappointed, or you’ll probably end up so.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10