Mini-Review: “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (Tomas Alfredson, France/UK/Germany 2011)

I don’t have enough to say about this film, so I’m reviewing it very briefly.

     I had some optimism for this film.

John le Carre’s work is difficult to adapt to film because it is so intricate and complex. His novels aren’t long, but that owes more to the plainness of his prose than the plots and characterizations, which are so deeply layered as to be difficult even in writing. That means that boiling them down to film length can easily render them downright impenetrable. However, Tomas Alfredson’s last film, Låt den rätte komma in (Sweden 2009), was a surprisingly interesting work that didn’t overcomplicate itself. It wasn’t groundbreaking or anything, but it was fun to watch and Alfredson didn’t turn his ludicrous plot into something ridiculous. That film did not show a lot of unconventional visual imagination, but it also did not need it, so I felt like Alfredson was a director with some promise for the future for having done that correctly.

What Alfredson ended up doing in this film, though, is falling into a typical adaptation trap: he tried to follow the source material no matter how far down the rabbit hole that took him. While the novel is not as labyrinthine as some of le Carre’s other work, it’s still not the stuff James Bond films are made of, and yet Alfredson made little attempt to simplify the plot. The British miniseries look of the film did not help, as there was nothing to keep the viewer’s attention other than the impenetrable plot. It still wasn’t terrible, but it definitely wasn’t actually good.

Further, Gary Oldman’s much-praised lead performance was a flat, mumbling performance of a one-note character. It wasn’t bad, because he had almost nothing to work with, but it also wasn’t anything special.
If you’re a big spy movie fan, it’s probably still worth a watch, but otherwise it wasn’t special.

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