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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Directing: B+
Acting: A-
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B-

Honestly, the most memorable mole in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the one on Svetlana Khodchenkova's face. It's right by the right corner of her mouth, and, well, it makes an impression. But so does Svetlana overall, given she's one of only two women in the vast cast of this film with even so much as a small role. And of the two, she's the only young, pretty one. In spite of the mole.

Her character, Irina, has a clear and direct connection to the mole -- that is, the mole at the highest levels of British Intelligence, feeding information back to the Soviets at the height of the Cold War. Topical, this movie is not. Historical? Maybe, sort of. Anyway, what the specific connection Irina has to the mole is never straightforward -- only her connection to other members of Intelligence, some of which are fuzzier than others.

And so it goes with TTSS, an exceptionally well-acted, very well-shot espionage mystery that is always at least a little bit confusing. Or maybe it was just me: certainly more astute observers would have put the plethora of pieces together in a way that I could not. I just can't think in the three-dimensional, labyrinthine diagrams it would take to keep the connections these many characters have to each other straight.

What is clear is that recently-dismissed agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman, unusually stiff but in a way that suits the character) has been asked back to help sort out who the apparent mole is. As always, everyone is a suspect, and the list of upper-echelon agents includes Percy Alleline (Toby Jones); Toby Esterhase (David Dencik); Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds); Bill Haydon (Colin Firth); Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong); perhaps even the guy at the top, "Control" (John Hurt). These guys are all middle-aged to aging character actors, with the exception of Colin Firth or John Hurt mostly recognizable as someone seen in something else you can't quite remember. Even the two young guys, both lower-tier agents (Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy), are relatively bland casting choices. This casting works well for the story at hand, but it also makes it difficult to distinguish one from another. Could you even follow that list of names just reading it?

And this is pretty much the entire movie: George Smiley, with a little help from his friends and colleagues, investigating the mole situation. There are a couple of mildly shocking deaths along the way. Oddly, when it's finally revealed who the mole is, after much coy teasing, it's not that big of a shock. But that has more to do with the manner of the reveal than who it is -- the effect would have been the same no matter who it was.

Based on a novel with the same title by John le Carré, this story clearly would have been more topical in its original publication date of 1974. In a way, this movie feels a bit like a time capsule -- a throwback to a time that is both over-represented in film and no longer all that relevant. But, as story is a story and will work regardless of context so long as it's told well. Is this story told well? It's told well enough, I guess. The performances are top notch and a big reason it remains compelling even when certain details remain fuzzy. But there's nothing particularly exciting about it.

Oldman's character is of no help in that department. Smiley spends a lot of time motionless, waiting several beats to say something or move a muscle. This seems to be a deliberate character choice, and Oldman commits to it admirably. He doesn't exactly make for a personable hero, however. Not that he needs to be, necessarily, but he still comes across as just kind of . . . blank.

The story does get easier to follow as it goes on, enough so that some emotional investment in several -- if not all -- of the characters becomes inevitable. I can't say the story is predictable, which is a point in its favor as well. On average, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an engaging film, in spite of its relatively slow pace. The absence of rapid-fire editing, which other films seem to regard as obligatory, is a relief.

It'll do for the time it takes to watch it. After that, it's pretty much forgettable.

Gary Oldman puts the pieces together in TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY.

Overall: B
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