You haven't had many peeps about the new version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy so I thought I'd send in a review having seen it last night.
The short version: it's a well made, well acted and well intentioned adaptation of Le Carre's seminal spy novel but falls short of the 70's BBC adaptation starring Alec Guinness.
The long version: this feels like a missed opportunity frankly. TTSS is beloved as a novel, TV Mini-series and radio series but this version is unlikely to be so revered. It's not for want of trying mind you. The production team and the cast work their socks off to tell the tale of a mole hunt at the upper echelons of the British secret service carried out by the forcibly retired number 2 George Smiley (which is a much plot as I'm going to give away). 70's Britain is recreated in all it's horrid brown and grey glory and the dingy hotels, greasy cafe's and damp safehouses Smiley and his team spend their time in leave you in no doubt that this is the anti-James Bond. This is the espionage world stripped of any trace of glamour. A world ruled by bureaucratic little men in suits reading endless reports looking for small glimmers of weakness that can be exploited for morally dubious victories. Now if that doesn't sound appealing I assure you it's presented beautifully. The lighting, camerawork and production design of this film are spell binding. Director Thomas Alfredson shoots much of the film like a surveillance unit, obscured by shrubs, long lenses and only just getting his performers in shot. The surface of every frame feels distorted or blurred as if reality is out of shot. All we see are the lies being told.
The cast slip into this world beautifully. Gary Oldman will finally be nominated for an Oscar and could very well go and win it. His George Smiley is a quiet, perhaps meek man, but his shoulders are heavy with dirty secrets and the unscrupulous ways they've been used in the name of democracy. Oldman never glamourises the role but he's still utterly mesmerising. Every turn of the head or flicker of the eyes is loaded with meaning. In his orbit is a veritable cosmos of brit talent from old hands like John Hurt to established stars like Colin Firth and Mark Strong and then to rising stars Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch provides Oldman with his best support as trusted aide Peter Guillam, a man put into difficult circumstances by Smiley's search. Hardy is also in fine form as the agent who initially uncovers the plot and finds himself a hunted man on both sides of the dirty war. The rest of the cast are admirable even when their characters are often reduced to paper-thin descriptions (more on this later).
But for all that hard work there's actually very little reward for the viewer. It should be crazily exciting. But it isn't. The film never seems to pick up and take you anywhere, it just sort of plays out in front of you. As a result, a lot of the drama is drained away. The scale and danger of what's happening never seems to come across. We're talking about a soviet double agent right at the very heart of the british intelligence community. But Smiley takes dips in a swimming pool and does crosswords in his local pub. Where's the urgency? The schism between the old guard of Smiley and his superior and the new cabal formed by their ambitious lieutenants feels empty somehow, as if they could never have been a threat. The exact meaning of the Tinker, Tailor codenames are hidden for most of the film so the exact nature of what's going on is a bit muddled. And whilst the greater enemy of Karla, the soviet spymaster, remains faceless (as perhaps it should) it also stays pretty much toothless due it being really confusing who he is and why he's so important.
Secondary characters like Kathy Burke's sacked researcher or Stephen Graham's ex-agent are reduced to narrative expedients, which is forgivable given the amount of info that has to be relayed but an act bordering of criminal when the films main suspects are reduced down to the-one-played-by-Toby-Jones, the-one-played-by-Colin-Firth, the-one-played by-Ciaran-Hinds and the-one-played-by-nobody-I-recognise. They're just faces. Their roles in the Circus are a mystery beyond their being important. What's the Circus? Welcome to how this film deals out it's information. It's said in passing. Never fully explained and mentioned only in half sentences or scribbled notes you never quite get to read. Now you could argue that it's refreshing to have a grown up film that's made for people to pay attention to it's subtleties and nuances. And indeed it is, but all the subtlety and nuance in the world is no good if you don't have a solid foundation to work off of, and TTSS doesn't really have one.
It's a shame because all the pieces are there and they're put together very well but they don't as if they've been put together correctly. Boiling down the dense layers of Le Carre's text to two hours was always going to be difficult and everyone is doing their absolute damnedest, I just can't help feeling that a better job could have been done in some places by pulling away the veil and be a little more direct. Don't get me wrong, this film does not need a car chase, shoot out or villainous monologue. But a bit more clarity up front and the rest of the film would have been so much more effective. I am going to watch it again to try and reassess it on it's own merits rather than comparing it to the mini-series, but for me the force is still with Mr. Guinness.