Tinker Tailor Soldier Snore
I have been sitting on this review for a while. Or rather, it’s been roiling around in my head from the moment I left the theatre in which I saw Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy almost a month ago. But I’ve held off on writing it, let alone posting it, because while sometimes it can be gratifying to voice the unpopular opinion, at other times it can make you, well, unpopular.
But with the release of the Oscar nominations for 2012 I cannot hold back any longer. I have too strong an opinion about the film, and the Oscar nominations that has resulted from it. Gary Oldman is up for Best Actor, and the film itself is up for Music (Original Score) and Writing (Adapted Screenplay). I have zero beef with the music nom other than that I can’t say I remember a single tune from the movie. I’m sure the score was great, but it certainly wasn’t memorable. And as for the adaptation from the source material, I have no background from which to comment, as I have not read the book on which it is based. And when I turn my gaze to Oldman’s acting nomination… Please understand that I love the man. I have been a fan of his for ever, going all the way back to Dracula. I could write an essay on just my love and respect for the man and his craft. Does he deserve an Oscar? Absolutely! For this movie?
Ehhhhh…. I really feel like I need to keep throwing up disclaimers as I write this, because there is no question that Tinker Tailor has an all-star, well-proven cast of acting giants. A brief, not exhaustive list: Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciarán Hinds and John Hurt. It really feels like sacrilege to say that, despite my best efforts, despite the film makers’ best effort, I just didn’t care for it.
Allow me to elaborate, and hopefully I can do so without constantly apologizing throughout. I went to see Tinker Tailor because my friends were going and because I read the cast list. I knew nothing about the story, that there was a book, etc. Nothing beyond the fact that my favourite British men would star in it (including my most recent love Benedict Cumberbatch). I love a good spy story, any thrillers, and I love me some Colin Firth. So, completely the opposite of Tintin, I went into this movie with a heart wide open and fully anticipating my love of it.
Instead I walked out pensive and confused. I felt like I had an itch in the back of my mind that I couldn’t scratch. And it seemed that my companions felt the same way, because they (a relatively loud-mouthed bunch) were all curiously subdued. Finally one person was brave enough to speak up and ask the dreaded question: “So…what did you think?” And after some hemming and hawing we were all finally able to man up and admit that we’d all found it boring. Boring! A spy drama, boring! It feels like a stab in the heart, even now, to admit it. But every one of us agreed that, when it’s all said and done (and we can be brutally honest), Tinker Tailor is plodding, dense, needlessly confusing, passionless and…boring.
The quickest response to a confusing adaptation is of course “Well, it makes sense if you read the book”, but I hate that excuse, it is such a cop-out. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is adapted from an absolute door-stopper of a book, is fast-paced (unapologetically so), and yet it is not impenetrable to those who haven’t read the books. And I’ve heard that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is also quite the ponderous tome, and that many story details simply could not be accommodated. But why, then, does it feel devoid of explanation? Stranger still, the chief complaint amongst my friends was that there was too much dialogue. They mean, of course, compared to the amount of action, but I felt quite the opposite. I understand the theme of subterfuge and secrecy inherent to spy stories, but was it necessary for the filmmakers to be so literal about it? I barely understood what I supposed to be concerned about, who I was supposed to empathize with and who should not be trusted. There are countless ominous looks between actors, but no real reason why we should be interested. The feeling I have is that the movie is only held together by the strength of its cast, that without their natural strengths and chemistry, there really would be nothing there.
It is slow-paced in all senses. Even the dramatic climax happens with such slow build-up that I honestly wasn’t expecting the reveal of the spy to happen so abruptly. Worse still, I was completely unsurprised by the reveal. I felt nothing, not surprise, not dismay, just disappointment that the answer to the mystery was so obvious. And that made all of the half-explained details all the more frustrating.
Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, seems on its face similar to a movie like Memento; you can’t really appreciate it on the first viewing, because certainly you are missing something vital. But I went and re-read the plot afterward and found that, no, I had gotten it all on the first view; it just didn’t make any sense. Did the cast do the best with what they had? Absolutely. But I can’t help but feel robbed. This was a power-house cast, once in a life time. And I feel like it was squandered.
I shall finish now by coming back to Gary Oldman’s Oscar nomination. The man is a genius character actor. He should have a bushel full of Oscars by now, and I will fight anyone who disagrees. And I know that the Academy has a habit of giving Oscar nominations years late, for projects that are “safe”. If Oldman wins I will be thrilled for him. But ultimately I’ll also be a little disappointed. He did a great job, but it was not his best performance because he wasn’t working with the best material. He should win the statuette for something that we can all talk about proudly, and for years to come.