Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - One of 2011's Best

Until the BAFTA's announced their nominations earlier this week, Tinker Tailor had been criminally underrated in the higher-profile award competitions. I take this as an indicator of our times, where the awards season is used to prop up what is most likable as appeasement to the masses. It's a glorified popularity contest with political maneuvering involved instead of what it should be - a celebration of the medium's greatest annual accomplishments.

Practically everything about Tinker Tailor is an achievement. It's beautifully shot, expertly acted, patiently directed and, in some ways, an exercise in audience engagement. You'll hear from a great many of its detractors that it's confusing, boring and hard to follow, but that's not really a fault of the film, it's a viewer defect. It's boring if you're not paying close enough attention to the details and subsequently hard to follow. You presumably paid money to see the film and someone (a lot of someones actually) took a great deal of time and effort to put all the pieces together to create the film's end-product, so why not pay attention? And I don't mean just sit and stare and let the whole damn thing, from beginning to end, be spoon-fed to you.

Listen to what is being said, watch what is being presented to you and how and trust yourself enough to come to your own conclusions on matters that the film will not expressly divulge. This is a spy movie after all, where watching and deducing are important to the plot itself. George Smiley's (Oldman) glasses are probably the most important prop in the film, for god's sake.

I think one point of frustration with Tinker Tailor is that there actually is quite a bit of dialogue, but very little exposition. Much is told, but not the type of things your general audience is waiting for. They're waiting for clear statements like "blank is the mole!", "such and such is our enemy in Russia" etc. Instead, a more believable world is built and characters are developed through less direct conversations. Smiley gives a long dialogue about his sole encounter with the mysterious and never-present Soviet-ops leader, Karla. It's chilling, and more informative about the antagonist than the entirety of Sherlock Holmes 2 is for Moriarty.

The film concludes with an outstanding sequence set to a Julio Iglesias version of "La Mer" that continues to knock my socks off with every viewing. In it, we see an assassination, Smiley's return to glory, and a number of other quick shots of the film's cast - effectively explaining their individual outcomes at the end of this whole ugly affair. For me, it was more fun and gratifying as a viewer to process and understand these things without them being said outright. And in the case of the more nebulous aspects, it's more enjoyable for me to speculate about the potential truths than to simply be handed everything with a written onscreen prologue - "Smiley went on to do this. Tarr did that and so on".

For my money, Tinker Tailor is right behind Drive in the list of 2011's best films and in any other year, it might easily take first place. Alfredson, making his english-language directorial debut as a follow-up to the stunning Let the Right One In, proves he's a force to be reckoned with. Oldman deserves, at least, a Best Actor nomination and practically the entire supporting cast could be considered in that category as well. Firth, Cumberbatch and Hardy are all outstanding and Mark Strong is particularly...well...strong in his role. Take the time to see this film and truly watch it. There's so much that's spectacular about it that only repeated viewing can unearth it all.

1 comment:

thomas saranacas said...

I agree with your assessment almost 100%

A great movie for so many many reasons.One problem is the sublimated homosexuality. Peter obviously. But Jim and Bill at the end? Obvious.

Also, the first 10 minutes of the movie were vague. Not confusing in the end, but that alone can turn off many. Overall, I agree with you.

My second favorite Gary Oldman performance after "True Romance", one of the most under appreciated movies of all time.