It’s not exactly fair to call Tomas Alfredson’s interpretation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy incomprehensible, but between the three of us, I was the only one who could figure out what was going on, and it took me an hour.
I did warn the kids in advance that spy movies could be rather difficult to follow. They don’t really know that much about the cold war. (We won! Wooo!) Someone I know who read the book said it was impossible to follow without having read the book, so I can feel reasonably smug—or if I’m wrong about what went down, comfortably deluded.
The Flower didn’t seem to mind too much. The Boy actually liked it, while conceding he didn’t have the faintest clue what was going on.
I’m not quite sure why that is. There’s a good atmosphere. (Alfredson’s last film was the moody Let The Right One In.) The music is used judiciously and sparingly.
Acting? Well, Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, the lead spy and—well, what can I say? It’s a dramatically understated part. He mostly has to be there. There’s a quiet righteousness to it, but I suspect the garnering of nominations for Oldman are because he’s Oldman, in spite of the part. (At least, I don’t see award ceremonies really appreciate subtlety.)
There are more excitable characters around him, though not very. Toby Jones plays an irascible Scot, but most of the remaining cast are degrees of moody. Mark Strong (last seen in Green Lantern), Ciaran Hinds (of The Debt), Colin Firth, etc. Well, it’s the cold war. Nobody was laughing.
Ultimately, this is what you’d expect from a cerebral espionage movie. A little murky, paranoid, effectiveness somewhat blunted by the occasionally confusing delivery.
What’s probably the most noteworthy thing about it, is that the story works, even if you can’t follow it. Compare that with so many of the movies this year, where you can follow the events perfectly, and yet there seems to be no actual working story.