‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ spins slow, realistic spy thriller

Jack Schoelz

Promotional movie chart
Used with permission from promotional materials
While “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” may be considered a spy thriller, it’s shed the genre’s action packed skin of Jason Bourne and James Bond for a slower, more detailed screenplay that honestly feels pretty boring.
The film takes place in Britain at the height of the Cold War. After a secret operation to oust a mole at the highest level of Britain’s secret service agency ends in disaster, its director and the head of M16, “Control” (John Hurt, “V for Vendetta”), and his right hand man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman, “The Dark Knight”), are forced to retire. Soon after, Control dies, and without him his investigation withers away. But one year later claims of moles resurface, and Smiley is brought out of retirement to uncover the double agent.
The movie starts out promising with a tense meeting on the streets of Hungary but slows down once the opening credits begin and never picks back up. Trailers and promos attempt to sell the movie as more exciting than it really is. Elements that have typified the spy genre, such as fight scenes, chase scenes and seductive foreign agents, are either barely present or missing entirely.  Instead, these elements have been replaced by a quiet, calculated hero who takes things one step at a time.
The problem doesn’t stem from the acting or directing but the screenplay. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is full of important details that the viewer is responsible to catch. Short scenes and brief dialogue move Smiley’s investigation forward. Oftentimes something as little as a character’s expression provides the only clue for what will happen next. The result is slow paced and difficult to follow, especially if audience members haven’t read the book by Jon le Carre on which the movie is based.
But what the film does successfully is recreate the feel of Britain during the Cold War. The storyline is realistic, and thanks to the acting, set design and cinematography, the movie looks and feels the part. Audiences get a sense of what espionage is really like, and that’s why, despite a few suspenseful moments, the movie feels dull overall.
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” has received plenty of early recognition from British Academy of Film and Television Arts, earning 16 mentions on their list of award semifinalists including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director. It’s almost certain to receive similar nods from the Academy when nominees are announced later this month. But unless audience members are willing to work through the subtle clues and hints that drive the main plot, they’ll leave the theater feeling like the alleged two-hour runtime was substantially lengthier.
By Jack Schoelz