Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Whatever
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - Spies Without Style
I’m very happy when a film “does what it says on the tin”, but that can mean being badly disappointed when a film fails to live up to the hype attending a major release. After considerable expectation and many supportive interviews and reviews I was expecting rather more of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy .
I knew before going in that the film portrays espionage without action, an “inaction thriller” if you like. What I didn’t expect was that it also lacks humour, intrigue and to a surprisingly large extent, dialogue. So much time is allocated to the menacing glances and thoughtful fiddling that some sections might as well be silent. It’s as if the screenwriters and director got to points where Le Carre was describing characters’ internal thoughts, and decided that we could just be left to guess them.
What this also means is that the film lacks the complex plot twists which one might expect. If the characters don’t engage in conversation, then there’s little opportunity to dissemble. Problems like a damaged log book are resolved by simply finding the man who was on duty and asking him to recount his memories, not by any complex act of detection. When a key character who is supposedly dead resurfaces later in the film, there’s no explanation of the timeline, or how he has just been allowed to go back to his cover job with no explanation of his absence.
While the film has a stellar cast, most are sadly underused. The senior spies other than Smiley and the mole have maybe a few lines each and almost no interactions between each other – completely wasting the talents of some of our most senior actors.
The film is shot in a dull brown monotone, carefully stripped of any variation in colour, or tone, or subject, with the single exception of scenes at a key office party. The colour scheme goes well with an accurate portrayal of the dullness of ordinary lives in the 1970s. There’s one very good sequence where Benedict Cumberbatch has to exploit the weaknesses of the low tech environment to extract a key piece of evidence, but most of the period detail is treated as simple background rather than context, a crucial difference.
A spy film without explosions or chases is one thing, but when there’s no attempt to substitute intricate detection, verbal jousting or witty banter then it rapidly becomes a very dull thing indeed.
A few weeks ago the excellent Page Eight with Bill Nighy and Michael Gambon showed exactly how this sort of thing should be done. This much vaunted “film of the year” fails badly.