Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) (R)

I'll admit something: I absolutely hated John le Carré's book Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. That being said, I read it after I saw the movie because apparently Carré is invaluable to the espionage novel; but what I found was that I had no idea what anything was or why I should care about anything. It's a muddled mess of a book (all personal opinions of course) and I really can't understand how or why I managed to dredge my way through it.
My point being that I have no love for the novel so nothing to compare the movie to, it exists in its own world for me. With all that in mind, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" is probably the lest exciting espionage movie you will ever see because we have become accustomed to movies like "Mission: Impossible" or "Salt" as our "spy"movies, when, in reality, it might look a little more like Carré's version.
The movie is set in Cold War era England where a kingpin in British security is being forced out of his position. As he leaves and right before his death he sets up a trail of dominoes for one of his friends and cohorts with the intelligence to set off. This man is George Smiley (Gary Oldman) who will have to trace down a mole within MI6 and help save the Western world from the tyranny of the Soviet Union.
Two things are immediately apparent within this movie: everything is transparent and the enemy is never visible. For a movie so entrenched in the idea of war and borders, we hardly ever see an actual villain, instead just observing the results of their interactions and the carnage they leave behind. While this may be unsatisfying to some viewers, I actually like it, because it presents everything through Smiley's context.
Even in its set design, the movie is transparent and we get the idea that everyone is a spy and taking note of everyone else's movements. The glass walls are spied through, smoke hangs and blurs everything but not beyond distinction, and the reflections of characters are noted and paused upon. It's clever and effective.
All that in praise of the movie, unfortunately, it's not very watchable. It's pretty dry and dull for a movie which features so much off-screen violence. And maybe that's the distinction of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy": the violence is often discovered and never viewed (of course there are exceptions).
Not wishing to spoil anything, I'll just say that the acting here is brilliant. An all-star cast pumps out career performances (a personal best for Benedict Cumberbatch who hits his high-water mark here and has yet to reach it again) and Gary Oldman who never ceases to amaze even in such a quiet and complex character.
But unfortunately, like the book, it gets muddled and too busy. Scenes serve no purpose and characters are barely introduced hold such power over the film's narrative. This is also my complaint about Doyle's writings; but that's for another day. There is a very very easy way to solve the mystery of the mole, but it doesn't involve the complexities or intrigues of the movie's plot...I won't elaborate.
"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" is a beautiful movie. It's style is wonderfully bleak and dark; but, unlike the popcorn show we've come to expect, it lets down...and maybe that's not a fault of its own. There are thrills in its final thirty minutes; but me personally, the final scene could have come thirty minutes earlier.

Score: ★★★

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