Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

February 17th, 2012

Hmmm.  I was very much looking forward to this, and I came out a little disappointed.  Perhaps disappointed is the wrong word – unaffected, maybe.  It just didn’t put much of a mark on me.  The whole thing was somehow a little opaque.  Oh so very English drabness in locations, grading, and hair, the cold war as a set of narky costcutting meetings between disillusioned bureaucrats.  A brilliant cast, but most of them felt underused, no one really emerged as an individual beyond Gary Oldman’s Smilie and he was to some extent an oasis of understatement in a desert of beige.  At this length the plot felt muddy too, names and events swimming at you then on to the next before you’d really connected them with anything else, so that when the traitor is finally revealed you find yourself shrugging.  Or at least I did.  Oh, it was him.  My response would have been the same (or the same absence of response) whoever it had been, and I had the advantage of already knowing the story a little bit.  I warmly recall the TV adaptation with Alec Guinness (and another excellent cast) – perhaps rose-tinted glasses, but I seem to remember the plot making much better sense drawn out over that longer time, and a deeper investigation of the characters and their relationships meant there was some emotional payoff in the reveal.

I can admire the craft that went into it, but to an end that I found rather unrewarding…

Posted in film and tv by Joe Abercrombie on February 17th, 2012.

20 comments so far

  • Graham says:

    Totally agree, and the line “an oasis of understatement in a desert of beige” is amazing, if I get a chance to use it before I forget it I will be a happy man.

    Saw Chronicle the other day, if the Batman, Spiderman and Avengers films due out this year are as good I will be content:

  • AntMac says:

    I have to admit also was disappointed with TTSS.

    Far too little time to do justice to the book, it was sort of like a rushed nostalgia job, we were expected to like it enough to fill in the blanks.

    Walking out afterward I asked some 20 yr old blokes that had seen it “Did you know what Communist Santa was referring to?”

    “AAAAH! That was LENINS FACE, OF COURSE ! ! !” they all cried. and then they asked “What was the song they sung?”. When I told them, they looked dumbfounded. Did not understand.

    To them, much was hidden. I mean, I lived through that era AND read the book, and even so it was a stretch from what was presented ON SCREEN to “get” that the younger Western Spies felt a kin-ship to their “enemies” that almost amounted to tacit support.

    Should have been a trilogy.

  • JamesM says:

    Oh god….easily the most boring film I saw last year. I’m not adverse to films with sparse dialogue and complex narratives, but god damn I struggled to stay awake, and then the ending just felt muddled and unsatisfying. Like you said it had an awesome cast and all that, but I couldn’t get into it.

  • James says:

    It’s just way too short. The book makes a perfect TV series and did so of course. Much less so a 2 hr film.

    I was exactly the same, didn’t care who the traitor was, I hadn’t emotionally connected with the film enough.

    Some astonishing acting talent in it though.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Astonishing cast, no doubt, but oddly forgettable performances on the whole. Oldman was very good, sure, if in an ultra-restrained way, and Mark Strong and John Hurt stuck out, but folks like Tom Hardy, Stephen Graham, Kathy Burke, Ciaran Hinds, all great actors, hardly registered. Part of me thinks the cast was maybe too big, but then you think about something like A Bridge Too Far with it’s ludicrous cast and most of those actors made a memorable mark.

  • Iangr says:

    Mediocre might be the word I’d use.
    If (like me) you eagerly await Season 2 of the Game of Thrones series to be aired…or for Abercrombie’s next book to come out,take a look at BBC’s “Sherlock” as a filler.
    You won’t be dissaponted!

  • Chris Upton says:

    Hate to be a facist about it (that’s a lie actually-I love it really) but you’re all completely wrong. Its the second best film of the year after Marth,Marcy,May,Marlene(utterly creepy and disturbing). A fascinating world of strange little grey men. The sense of time and place is excellent. Certainly better than that equine abortion War Horse and its ode to bestiality. Sadly the industry knows the demographics of the voting academy all to well, and I believe we’re going to see an increase in by the numbers, lowest common denominator oscar bait.
    On a lighter note Transformers 4 has been announced and Mark Kermodes response is rather amusing.

  • Whiskeyjack says:

    Hated it. I had no idea what was going on, but I’m a simple man. Watched Warrior with Tom Hardy last night. A modern day Rocky. Foookin class. I cried twice and although I’m a little bit of a woman with films, they were big tears man, huge.

  • Lazlo Woodbine says:

    I went to see TTSS having not heard much about it here in New Zealand. I didn’t even know who was in it so was just expecting it to be ‘ok’, but ended up on the edge of my seat for the entire film.

    It wasn’t just Oldman giving a suberbly subtle performance. Having never seen the original series I still got the impression that the whole cast of characters were fully rounded and had plenty of depth, even though it wasn’t shown onscreen, and that’s a mark of a good film to me.

    TTSS was never going to please everyone in this world of Bourne Identity clones but for me it was a refreshing change. I was gripped from start to finish, trying to pick up on all the subtleties and looking for clues.

  • James says:

    Joe, I agree that noone stood out in particular. Surely though, that was the nature of the roles. In the stiff-upper-lip world of the Circus, everyone is sort of undemonstrative by nature.

    Not much opportunity to display the old acting chops.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Definitely that was the nature of the roles, which is what I mean by admiring the craft but to an end I found unrewarding. Ultimately, if you’re trying to be bland you might succeed magnificently, but the end result still, almost by definition, will be bland. One of the characters was even called Roy Bland.

  • Adam says:

    I thought Toby Jones did a good job. He was actually the standout for me. Oldman’s performance kind of seemed like am impersonation of Guinness performing Smilie.

    The problem was clearly the screenplay and why I say that sometimes an author just needs to stand aside and allow some small changes to their seamless prose. The script tries too hard to fit everything in and ultimately makes the film look like a collage of scenes and conversations that you hope makes sense when it wraps.

    They needed to make that movie an hour longer or cut one of the storylines altogether. If the book purists don’t like it, they can always do what you’re supposed to do anyway and read the book because a film is never supposed to be the equal of a literary work it interprets.

  • James says:

    Joe, true enough, it would have been a very different movie if the character had been called Roy Dynamite. More explosions for one thing.

    Certainly with Oldman, I wasn’t sure if I was watching a supremely subtle acting performance full of finely-tuned nuance or a chap who really wasn’t doing terribly much. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    On an aside, I’ve often though Tom Hardy would do very well in an adaptation of your work.

  • SwindonNick says:

    Great acting talent and they captured the 70’s brilliantly but I too was underwhelmed by everything else. But it seems to be a snobbish film, if you say you were not that fussed it’s because “you don’t get it”….

  • Yax says:

    Nothing in this movie stood out for me. I came into it not having read the book or having seen the show and really struggled with it. Just telling the actors apart was an effort!

    I don’t see this performance by Oldman as being up there with his Sid and Nancy, but then again I probably didn’t have enough background on this movie before I saw it to make a real judgement.

  • Gary says:

    Yep, another case of an adaptation being made in the wrong format. Reminds me of the huge dissapointment I had with the Watchmen film. A truly remarkable comic, one of the greatest ever and they squashed it into a two hour film adaptation instead of a tv series that would have worked much better.

    The same has been done with Tinker-Tailor-Soldier-Spy and it shows either an ignorance or lack of understanding of the source material by the filmmakers if they believed that film was the best format for it.

  • Chevi 77 says:

    I also kind of can take it or leave it with this one. Great performances of Oldman, Strong, and close by Cumberbatch, but the rest seemed underused (I did not buy much Strong and Firth characters bond, for example). In a way, I think Spielberg did much better with Munich (same sort of period) back in the day with Bana, Craig and Hinds.
    On the other hand, the setting was beautifully made, some scenes are brilliant (like Smiley remembering his meeting with his russian counterpart in India) and it shows that there has been a lot of effort put into it, but like somebody else mentioned before, probably into the wrong format (and length). Perhaps the same old that Joe always say about fantasy in general, too much effort put into creating the world and scenery, but not so much into the characters??

  • Daniel Platt says:

    Joe and everyone on here seem to love Drive and not like Tinker Tailor. I was the complete opposite. I thought Tinker Tailor was a superb adaptation, with the added scene of the Christmas Party very well done. A wonderful film, with terrific performances. It sits very well alongside the TV version and David Cornwell has given it his blessing and thinks it was a smart adaptation. Which is good enough for me.

  • martingriffy says:

    I agree with Daniel Platt,

    Drive was alright but why 5mins? Make up a number and go with it. It was a glorified chase movie.

    Tinker on the other hand was slow paced but it had class and atmosphere, like an Andre Tarkovsky film. It was the subtleties that created it.
    Too many films now tell rather than show.

  • pezdel says:

    i think anyone who saw the tv series would be a little disapointed with the film perhaps “smileys people” would make for abetter film?

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