james debate
james debate

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Written by Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan, John le Carré (novel)
Produced by by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo
Starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch
Running time 127 minutes

An all star cast and crew team up in an attempt to adapt le Carré's classic novel to the cinema.

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Skepticism was rife when a cinematic adaption of Tinker Tailor was announced. After all, the novel is a celebrated and layered tale of espionage, which up til now has only been successfully adapted into the BBC's seminal seven part miniseries. Fitting the entire piece into a two hour film was always going to be a tall order.

For their part, an impressive array of talent has been assembled for the project. Director Tomas Alfredson is one of the big up and comers in the cinema world following the critical acclaim lavished upon Let the Right One In, while the cast features such luminaries as Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, John Hurt and Mark Strong. It all makes for one of the more impressive ensembles in recent years, with a good mix between experienced old hands and hotly tipped newcomers.

It is no small praise then that this crew damn near succeeds in their efforts. The end result is an entertaining and cerebral two hours, one which appears almost flawless from a technical standpoint. Alfredson more than lives up to his billing, crafting a visually striking and generally well articulated film of some style. A great deal of credit must go to both him and the scriptwriters who have done about as good a job as can reasonably be expected in fitting the story into such a short narrative running time. Tinker Tailor is a satisfying and complex story regardless of format, and fans of the genre will find much to enjoy here.

Additional kudos must go to the actors involved. It is inevitable that they will be unfairly compared with those that have portrayed these characters in the past, notably the late Sir Alec Guinness, but they do themselves a great service, standing tall alongside their esteemed forbears.

Gary Oldman delivers one of the strongest performances of his career, a fine-etched tableau of a world weary being sleeping under well trained exterior. Familiar faces like Colin Firth and John Hurt also bring their typical level of quality to proceedings, but special note should be afforded to relative new boys Tom Hardy (who viewers will recognise from Inception) and Benedict Cumberbatch (who will be familiar to fans of the recent BBC adaption of Sherlock Holmes, or to any regular theatre patrons in London), both of whom have seen their stars rise considerably in the last few years and will see it take off still further here.

Yet despite this, Tinker Tailor still falls short of the standard set by its other iterations. While this may be a highly entertaining and well made spy thriller, it consistently falls flat when addressing some of the meatier contexts of the original plot, and at key moments. A perfect example is the final climactic scene, which sadly finds itself lacking in any real suspense or sense of danger. The big reveal of the double agent traitor thus feels disappointingly indifferent; what was supposed to be a wrenching and deep conflict of friendship and betrayal ends up with a complete lack of emotional impact.

So what went wrong? Ultimately it seems inarguable that two hours is just not long enough to fully appreciate the details of this story. The ending lacks tension because the stakes have not been well established, and the pacing inconsistent. The character drama lacks impact because the characters have not been fleshed out with any substance, and their relationships have not been explored in any real sense. Colin Firth in particular, for what is a pretty central role, has fewer lines than I can count on my fingers up until the final scene, and as far as I can remember doesn't share any lines whatsoever with Mark Strong's character, which is intended to be one of the deeper and more meaningful relationships in this story. These characters, simply, do not have anywhere near enough time to develop sufficiently.

This movie feels like an abridged version of Tinker Tailor, a bare-bones outline of events, offering newcomers to the story only a touch more emotional depth than a wikipedia plot summary. However, it would be foolish to only criticise this film for what it isn't, rather than appreciate what it is. This is not a novel, nor is it a miniseries, but as a film in its own right it is a fine piece of work, albeit one that finds itself oddly lacking in bite.

Just to be clear, this film makes a valiant attempt at adapting the classic novel. The production and cast are superb, and one can't help but be impressed at how close they have come to condensing everything to film length. In the end there simply is not enough time to devote more than the most superficial of attention to the characters and relationships, which is where the real meat of this tale lies.

Quality of film making
Fine acting
Satisfying and intriguing classic plot

Too short to flesh out character drama
Sometimes lacking in suspense
Often lacking in dramatic impact

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