Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Did anybody smile in London during the 70’s?

George Smiley, played by Gary Oldman, is forced back from his retirement, to find out who the mole in the Circus is. Alongside Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Mendel (Roger Lloyd-Pack), they start the search inside the “company”, ruling out one by one.

Hearing that this film is one tough-as-nails film to keep track of, I thought I’d still be all good and cool not reading any of the source material and not really being totally awake for this flick. Little did I know that I made a grave mistake.

This film is one you really have to pay attention to. Every single little line, of every single little sentence is another piece of information that adds more onto this story and mystery to where if you mis-understand what one character says, you’re lost for the most part. It’s also even harder to follow this film when you have about 100 characters with all of their code-names, things they do, what they did, what they are supposed to, position in the office, yadda yadda yadda. It’s a lot of stuff that this film throws at you but to be honest, I liked that element.

This is one of those rare films that asks you to use your brains and instead of spoon-feeding everything to you, there are times when you just have to make up assumptions for yourself. It sounds a little bit too much for some to handle, but for me, I liked this whole feel where I had no idea what was going to happen next and as the main character, Smiley, was gaining information, I felt like I was right there with him finding out just who is “THE MOLE!”. It also helps that the tone is downright glum and dark to where we know that no matter, something bad and unhappy will happen so we can never really get our hopes up.

Another way why this film works is because of director Tomas Alfredson‘s approach to this material. From the trailer and the plot summary, I was expecting a lot of talking, anger, and just all of these crazy things being thrown at me, but instead it was a lot more quiet, subtle, and slow which at first seems annoying but as time goes on, the film starts to get even more paranoid and you don’t quite know exactly what’s going to happen next. When these character do actually have words to say to one another though, they get straight to the point and never steer towards anything else like what they had for breakfast or anything. You also never know when these huge climatic moments happen either because everything goes along so smoothly and we take so much information throughout the whole film that when something big is revealed, we don’t really feel it because we are so used to be clobbered over the head with info.

This is where my biggest problem with this film comes up. The film is about 2 hours and 8 minutes long but even then it feels short with everything we get thrown at us. Don’t get me wrong, I was able to keep up with most of this but after awhile it becomes too much considering that we never really get a chance to let all of this information sink in and right as soon as it does, or at least we think it does, the film throws us another piece of info and then that’s when the headaches start to come on. The script is done perfectly by Peter Straughn and the late Bridget O’Connor but in all honesty, too much information with so little time really. Hey, ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ was about 2 hours and 40 minutes, a run-time that I think that this film could have really easily benefited from in the first place.

Another problem with this film was that I felt like there wasn’t much of an emotional pay-off for anybody who was actually paying real close attention to this film. It’s not hard at all to figure out just what the hell everybody is discussing, but it’s more the fact that all of the details that we have to pay close attention to, never pay off. There are even some parts that are brought up such as a homosexual relationship between two workers which at first seemed very interesting, but for some odd reason it never gets touched upon except for just one time and then it’s just left open to us. As long as this film may be (which it didn’t feel like at all), it almost felt like there was another hour needed just for all of these story lines to be resolved, which may make sense as to why it was a mini-series in the first place anyway.

As for the cast though, what else other than perfection could you expect? I think it’s easy to say that this huge-list of British all-stars is brought together by the one and only Gary Oldman as Mr. Smiley. Just like the tone of the film, Oldman plays this role very straight-forward, very quietly, and also very understated. This shows how impressive of an actor this guy can be and this is one of the most recent performances that he’s given where he shows just why he is one of the best working actors in today’s day and age. As for all of the Oscar talk that he’s been getting as of late, I do think that he could somehow, someway sneak his little way into a nomination but there’s nothing else here that’s really “Oscar material” other than one little speech he gives, which shows his way of bringing out emotion no matter what film he’s in.

The rest of the cast here is also amazing as well. Colin Firth is great to watch as Haydon, the most charming character out of this whole film; Tom Hardy is one of the best supporting performances in this flick with his role as Ricki Tarr; it’s also a huge surprise to see Mark Strong in a flick where he doesn’t completley suck ass, but regardless he’s great here with his performance as Prideaux; and Benedict Cumberbatch also looks and acts the part of the smart-little side-kick, Guillam. There are so many other great performances given here but instead of just rambling on the whole time and dropping names left-and-right, I think I’ll just leave it at the peeps who I remembered the most from this flick.

Consensus: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy benefits from its strong cast, a whole bunch of details that add more to the mystery, and a dreary/paranoid feel that goes perfectly with its subject material, but it packs so much information and details into a time-limit of 127 minutes, that it’s almost too much for us to handle let alone get a full feel for in the end. Definitely take a 5-hour energy before going into this flick though.



  1. As we have a growing immigrant population in London, England, we are actually learning to smile, but it’s still a shock to my system when I am in North America and expected to smile quite so much. It makes my mouth hurt. We certainly didn’t smile at all in the 1970s, except on TV game shows and they mostly imported the hosts for those. I liked this movie and thought Oldman and Tom Hardy were both absolutely wonderful, but I agree with you it could have run longer and explained things better. Look for the old TV series which is more detailed. I assume that the name “Smiley” was the writer’s little joke, in the book.

    • I think so too, and I agree with you on the film’s running-time. Definitely should have been at least as long as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Thanks!

  2. Watched it a couple of days ago and you are right, it’s so much info and to me it was too much. I usually can’t remember names of chracters in movies, so I was completely lost and didn’t enjoy it. To me it’s down to bad editing. The movie looks good and the actors are great, but it’s not a movie for everyone.

  3. I found the new movie to be uninteresting, a lot of short scenes to make up a puzzle, but didn’t really care about the outcome sadly. Maybe packing the tv-series into 2 hours was a bad decision. I guess its for those who love a good spy thriller. Not my kind of film really.

    • It’s good if you want to pay attention to a film very closely but I think the fact that they crammed everything in with such a short time is its biggest fault and what took it away from being a real Oscar contender. Thanks Chris!

  4. Smiling in London is not aloud sadly, though there are some people out there ditching this one rule!

    Glad that you guys over the pond are FINALLY getting to see this film. I loved it. I agree that there wasn’t much of an emotional pay off. But the reason I loved the film was because of it’s whole nature – asking the audience to just keep up and play along rather than telling them explicitly what is going on. There wasn’t a single character in the film that was there for the watching audience, every single character was just there to keep the plot moving along.

    • They totally were and this film is a very hard one to follow but it’s really good at other times too so I can’t really complain all that much. Thanks Jaina!

  5. Great review! I have to agree with you – the movie could have done wonders given more time. It did feel condensed and some of the seemingly important character details (homosexuality being one of them) were short changed. Thanks for the commentary!

  6. Hi Dan,

    Thanks for commenting on my site and inviting me to check your review. Very well written and observed. I totally agree with you that the film lacks emotional pay off or even engagement. It’s mentally engaging (if you don’t let yourself get too frustrated), but there isn’t much time to get to know the characters or to become invested in what happens to any of them.

    Cheers, and thanks again.

  7. Great review and thanks for reading mine. I think you brought up good points and I whole heartedly agree that it could have benefited from an extension. Such solid acting but not enough room to breath overall. The admonition for caffeine before this movie should be well headed. Looking forward to reading more.

  8. I wish I wasn’t 1/2 asleep when I saw this movie, i missed some key details. I was sort of lost at points and don’t want to spend another $12 to see it. Great review though!

  9. Nice review! I’m guessing you weren’t familiar with the story beforehand? Maybe I was just biased because I already knew the story before walking in.

    By the way, have you seen RocknRolla? I think it’s terribly overrated and I thought Mark Strong was great there. That’s why I started liking him in the first place, in fact, hahaha.

      • Underrated* underrated. That’s what I meant to say. LOL. I fail. Too bad I can’t edit that. Hahahaha. But yeah, I don’t think people give RocknRolla enough credit. I think if you try to look for some kind of serious or mindblowing epiphany, you’re not going to find it. However, I thought it was HILARIOUS and awesomely sarcastic. And I do think it is SUCH a shame that he’s probably not going to make a sequel. I think his sarcastic humor went over quite a few heads.

  10. I think you’re right, it probably could’ve been a bit longer. At the same time, though, the pacing was part of what I loved about it. Bottom line: I think this is one that will reward multiple viewings.

    • It probably will reward with that but to be honest, I think I got the story the first time around, it just took me forever to finally get a full grasp of. Thanks Andrew!

  11. I think we’re on the same page with this one. I really needed that emotional pay off and didn’t get it. Otherwise I would have thought it to be a better film. Loved the acting and setup though.

  12. All of the reviews seems to come to a general conclusion that this movie was a bit confusing- I want to see it but your review convinced be I might want some background info before I do. Good review!

  13. What a great review! I think we’re totally on the same page. It definitely should have been at least as long as the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. My favorite part was the final sequence when they played “La Mer” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MVMJP0nbEQ

    I will make sure to keep reading your blog! Please give mine a gander every now and then too.

  14. I think we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I found TTSS to be a complete and utter bore. It’s not so much that the plot is complex and you have to pay attention to figure out what is going on as much as it is that you have to stave off sleep to pay attention. The required drink before watching a film should not be a red bull.

    • I don’t know about that man. I mean I do think that this film isn’t as exciting as it could be but when it came to solving the mystery along with Smiley and having to figure things out ourselves, it worked very well but it gave us too much in such a small amount of time. That’s where my problem lied. Thanks though dude!

  15. I’ve been waiting for this film for a while and was not let down. I think the lack of “pay-off” is due more to the moral ambiguity of the characters and what they do, then a weakness in the story or editing. In the end these are not good people. The Tom Hardy character said it best when, “I’m going to get out of the business before I turn into you lot.”

    I purposely wrote me review before reading yours so it wouldn’t affect mine, and what I can say is your review blows mine away. I was actually embarrassed for myself. I’m going to revisit mine before posting.

  16. Have yet to check this out. Heard so many great things about this movie, I can’t believe Gary Oldman is getting absolutely no love for his performance though. Wonderful review Dan.

  17. I found this movie to be a disappointment. I made the same mistake–little to no information going in to it–and found myself lost at some point. I feel like I’d need a few more viewings to catch everything, and there really is little pay-out when you do focus hard only to realize those details don’t matter. What a great cast and smart idea, but not a great film in terms of explanation. I don’t have to be entertained by every film, but it would be nice to understand what’s going on. And if it required a second viewing (like many films), it would be nice to WANT to see it again. I don’t really want to make a second viewing of it. Too bad.

  18. I actually thought the running time was a little refreshing- I’ve started to grow tired of the abundance of films today that stretch past the two-and-a-half hour mark. I felt like the final montage did a lot to add an emotional punch to the end of the story and to wrap up everything in a way that felt earned and also emotionally satisfying.

    Wonderful review! Thanks for the read!


  19. Great review! You did a much better job at expressing this movie than I did. I have to say it must have been good because I have thought about it everyday since seeing it. I think my brain is still trying to sort through all the info we were given (or not given, or may have missed).

  20. One’s enjoyment of this film will come down to one all important detail – that you actually care who the mole is. Unfortunately the narrative is so emotionally aloof, I didn’t. TTSS’s lack of emotion makes it hard to care. Add to that the flashback-flash-forward structure. There’s absolutely no warning when the story shifts time periods – something it does frequently throughout the film. I did appreciate the acting and the set design though . It was an easy movie to respect, but a hard movie to love. Great review!


  21. Not only do I agree with your assessment, but I also really like your writing style! Very enjoyable, and you do a great job conveying the sense of the film. Thanks for checking out my own review.

  22. Dan,

    Thanks for sending me your way. Great review. Good to meet a like mind on this movie too. I think I might have given this a 7-7.5, but I did like it in overall. Like you said, there is a lot being thrown at the viewer, which hurt the emotional impact of the film. I think that’s true, but I think there is another way to phrase the problem: it was overly calculated. Yes, its a nitty gritty spy thriller with lots of details that could be spread out over another 40 minutes. The larger problem, to me, seemed to be that in order to feel more “authentic,” equal weight was placed on almost every single element. It seemed like the director was afraid to take a risk by placing more emphasis on one or two larger points. Because of that, to me, this ultimately ended up feeling like a meticulous report. I liked, but wanted to like it a lot more.

  23. If you haven’t see the BBC series, you must check it out. It really dives into a lot more of the story and Alec Guiness is amazing in the lead role. Solid review.

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