The 2011 Oscar-nominated spy thriller starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, and Tom Hardy is confusing, choppy, but ultimately enthralling on Blu-ray...
Universal / 127 Minutes / 2011 / Rated R / Street Date: March 20, 2012
The aspect of John Le Carre's novel that director Tomas Alfredson gets totally right with his 2011 adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is its glamorous chaos. Le Carre is without question our singularly great living spy novelist - who else comes close? - but for this writer's pea brain, Tinker on the page was a confoundingly well-written enigma, a story that had an intriguing subterfuge-driven plot-design core, but felt all over the place pretty much the whole time.
The film version of Tinker thankfully slices off a lot of the novel's many red herrings and story diversions, but as engaging and often impressively elegant as it can be, this film version is also cacophonous in terms of its narrative focus. Perhaps this is Le Carre's (and Alfredson's) intent, but as assured and heavy on starpower as it is, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy often defaults to being a film with long scenes featuring unfamiliar characters talking about issues and topics that don't entirely make sense.
But this is where Tinker ultimately gets a pass from me: There are savvier viewers than me out in the world (a serious understatement, to be sure), and I'm happy to be left in the dark as long as a movie has a distinct feel to it, and that's where Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy shines. Its narrative hook about a mole potentially infiltrating the British Intelligence Service as the Cold War reaches its apex is simple enough to comprehend, and along the corridors of the film's execution, there are cinematic merits so distinguished that it's easy to dismiss any confusion about the movie's design and focus on them.
Gary Oldman's performance as lieutenant George Smiley is front and center in this regard: As the movie's anchor, he brings a deliciously off-kilter sense of paranoia and blind duty to the role that not only differentiates his take on the character from Alec Guinness' iconic Smiley, but gives him a well-worn authenticity that is marvelously appealing and engaging. Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, and Ciaran Hinds all turn in extraordinary supporting turns, as well.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy isn't a perfect spy movie, but on Blu-ray Disc, it's difficult to resist. Even when this writer had no idea what was going on, I was deliriously entranced by the thing, happily hypnotized while shoveling popcorn into my mouth. It may prove to be a tough sell to those hoping for more Bourne than Le Carre with their spy sagas, but viewers with a little bit of patience, there are rewards here.
And tell your girlfriend or wife that Colin Firth's in it: She'll be okay with that.