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    Sep 26th, 2011

    This along with The Artist is the strongest review Kenny Turan of the LATimes has written for an English language non-doc this year.

    “An enormously impressive piece of work”

    By Kenneth Turan,
    Los Angeles Times Film Critic

    December 9,

    The question at the heart of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is simplicity
    itself: Is there a Soviet secret agent at the very highest echelons of British
    intelligence? Getting to the answer, however, couldn’t be more deliciously,
    thrillingly, brilliantly complex.

    Starring a surprising Gary Oldman
    and masterfully directed by Tomas Alfredson, “Tinker Tailor” comes by that
    complexity honestly, courtesy of the subtle, allusive 1974 John le Carré novel
    set in a merciless espionage world where trust is an illusion and nothing is
    remotely what it seems. This is a film to which very close attention must be
    paid, but the rewards of doing so are considerable.

    That’s because Swedish director Alfredson, who created a stir with his
    vampire-themed “Let
    the Right One In
    ,” has come up with a film that is endlessly rich in
    incident, atmosphere and personality, a film that leaves us hanging on by the
    barest skin of our teeth as we try to figure out who is doing what to whom and
    why. The spy trade doesn’t get much more exciting than this.

    Alfredson has accomplished all this in the face of considerable obstacles.
    Not only is Le Carré’s book anything but straightforward, but it’s already been
    made into a six-hour British miniseries starring an impeccable Alec
    as inscrutable protagonist George Smiley, a performance so potent
    that readers of what became a Cold War trilogy inevitably had the actor in their

    Screenwriters Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan were equal to the first
    part of the challenge, artfully compressing Le Carré’s story — the novelist
    compared it to turning a cow into a bouillon cube — while understanding that in
    this world what is unspoken is as important as what is said.

    Alfredson, for his part, has seen to it that “Tinker Tailor” moves along at a
    fast-paced, almost electrifying clip. Blessed with a superb ensemble cast, he
    displays a gift for authenticity and honesty in performance plus an almost
    uncanny feeling for atmosphere and mood, for letting the pitiless, almost
    Scandinavian gloom of this tawdry, amoral universe seep into its physical
    objects. As the gifted cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, an artist with the
    film’s drab, faded grays and browns, told American Cinematographer magazine, “It
    is a melancholic world set in small rooms, drenched in nicotine and bureaucratic

    Placing Oldman in the center of this universe was not an obvious choice, but
    it has played out superbly. For though George Smiley has, in Le Carré’s words,
    an espionage past “so complex that even he himself could not remember all the
    enemies he might have made,” he is thoroughly lackluster in appearance, “one of
    London’s meek who do not inherit the earth.”

    Given that, as he himself says, Oldman is “often asked to play kinetic,
    frenetic characters,” he was “thrilled to be asked to play someone still.” He
    threw himself into the Smiley role, for instance reportedly trying on 50 pairs
    of vintage eyeglasses at Old Focals in Pasadena before selecting just the right

    Oldman’s Smiley, so correct he even swims with those glasses on, is a man who
    by all appearances is tired, colorless and defeated, the drab epitome of the
    unthreatening drone with an unreliable wife thrown into the bargain. But in his
    methodical and imperturbable way, Smiley is a master at his game, someone you
    underestimate at your peril, and Oldman’s quietly commanding performance fully
    understands the power inherent in restraint.

    It’s not Smiley we meet first in 1973’s London but his superior, Control (John Hurt at his
    best), who opens his door in the dead of night to top operative Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong).
    “You weren’t followed?” are the first anxious words he says, and the game is at
    once afoot.

    Control sends Prideaux to Hungary (changed from the book’s Czechoslovakia) to
    meet with a general who is thinking of defecting. The general claims to know the
    name of a double agent or mole the Soviets have placed at the top level of
    British intelligence, called the Circus by insiders, and Control very much wants
    that information.

    Like everything else in “Tinker Tailor,” that trip does not go as planned,
    and both Control and Smiley, who is his number two, are forced out of the Circus
    and into early retirement. With its savage bureaucratic infighting and bitter
    turf battles, the Circus was hardly Eden, but it is the only world Smiley has

    Then, unexpectedly, senior government official Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney)
    calls Smiley back into the game. Lacon confirms what Control suspected: The mole
    exists. But who is he, and how does he operate?

    Aided by the younger Peter Guillam (Benedict
    ), Smiley is given the almost impossible task of deciding which
    of the main suspects identified by Control, who gave the men the nursery rhyme
    nicknames that give the novel its title, is the Soviet mole.

    Was it Percy Alleline (Toby Jones),
    a.k.a. Tinker, the new head of the Circus? Bill Haydon (Colin Firth),
    a.k.a. Tailor, who replaced Smiley? Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds), a.k.a. Soldier? Or
    someone else entirely. Whoever it is, Smiley knows that the implacable hand of
    Karla, Moscow’s
    preeminent spy master, is likely behind it all.

    Complex as this may sound, it is only the merest outline of the beginning of
    perhaps the great spy tale of our time. To see a novel of this level of quality
    getting the writing, directing and acting it deserves is beyond heartening.
    “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is an enormously impressive piece of work, and
    that’s news too good to stay secret for long.

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    Sep 26th, 2011

    This film (early on – more reviews to come, but 18 so far) has the highest score of any contending films – better even than The Artist and Moneyball  88. More impressively, its LOWEST score is 75.

    I know the tone on this board has been really down on this, but it may turn out to be a significant contender.

    I wonder if not showing at Toronto worked against this – most of the reaction so far has come from Oscar bloggers, not critics. The latter clearly like the film more than the former.

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    May 22nd, 2011

    Here’s my initial review of this film:

    TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2011) – director: Tomas Alfredson

    Despite a competent director and stellar cast, this film is very disappointing. Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan adapted their script from John le Carre’s widly popular novel. Unfortunately, O’Connor and Straughan’s convoluted screenplay sinks the film. All of the characters are underdeveloped and there are many stretches where the film is just boring.  Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones and the rest of the cast do the best they can with the material, but solid acting can’t save this unremarkable film.


    I think this will be one of those films were critics and audiences are dead split. I understand why a lot of critics like TTSS; it’s highbrow and has snob appeal.

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    Sep 26th, 2011

    Great NYT review; likes Oldman a lot

    The Spy Who Emerged From the Fog

    Dread throbs like a heartbeat in “Tinker,
    Tailor, Soldier, Spy,”
    a superb new adaptation of the 1974 spy novel by John
    le Carré
    . It’s a deep pulse that maintains its insistent rhythm throughout
    the film’s murmured conversations, life-and-death office intrigues, violence and
    yearning loves. The throbbing does a number on your nervous system — this is a
    movie you watch on high alert — and brings you into the state of mind that can
    feel like a state of siege and goes by the name of British secret service, or
    just the Circus. For those inside the intelligence service, like George Smiley,
    played with delicacy and understated power by Gary
    , knowledge is power, but so too is fear.

    The story, skillfully mined from Mr. le Carré’s labyrinthine book and set in
    1973, is a pleasurably sly and involving puzzler — a mystery about mysteries
    within mysteries. The head of the service, known as Control (John Hurt),
    believes that there’s a Soviet agent, a mole, among the agency’s elite. His main
    suspects include his closest aide, Smiley, along with Percy Alleline (Toby
    ), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) and Bill
    Haydon (Colin
    ). To find the mole, Control secretly sends Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong),
    who runs the agency’s scalp hunters (field agents with dirty, sometimes bloodied
    hands), to Hungary to retrieve information. But Prideaux, in an agonizing
    botch-up, is shot, and Control, already politically weak, is fired along with

    Mr. le Carré’s seventh novel and the first in his Karla trilogy, “Tinker,
    Tailor” is set against a geopolitical (and movie) moment that is almost
    quaintly, reassuringly old-fashioned, a time when enemy agents had names like
    Boris, and a red flag with a hammer and sickle made the ideological and
    political stakes clear. It’s a world of secrets and lies, shadows and light,
    illusions and sordid truths, loyalties and perverse betrayals (it could be
    called “Enemies, a Love Story”) that the director Tomas Alfredson conjures up in
    the film’s uneasy opening in Control’s apartment, a cluttered warren fogged over
    by cigarette smoke. “There’s a rotten apple,” Control says to Prideaux, drawing
    on a cigarette as he explains his theory about the mole, the folds in Mr. Hurt’s
    magnificent face sagging a bit lower.

    That face, a crevassed landscape that suggests sorrow and history, has the
    granitic grandeur of W. H. Auden in his later
    life. In tandem with Mr. Hurt’s sonorously melancholic voice (and its useful
    undertones of hysteria), it is a face that, when used by a filmmaker like Mr.
    Alfredson, speaks volumes about a character who would otherwise take reams of
    written dialogue to discover. But unlike the 1979 British
    television version
    with Alec Guinness that ran a dutiful 350 minutes, Mr.
    Alfredson doesn’t enjoy the luxury of literalness. Instead, working from Bridget
    O’Connor and Peter Straughan’s intelligent script, this terrifically talented
    director (“Let the Right One In”)
    distills the novel’s essence, finding images, as with the Circus’s
    chessboardlike walls, that express what the film’s words and characters don’t.

    Smiley, who doesn’t say a word until 18 minutes in (“I’m retired”), re-enters
    the spy game at the behest of a government minister, Oliver Lacon (Simon
    McBurney). Lacon has received alarming information from Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy),
    another scalp hunter, who has met a Soviet woman, Irina (Svetlana Khodchenkova),
    with apparent knowledge of the mole. Using Tarr’s lead and with the help of a
    trusted Circus agent, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), Smiley begins
    ferreting out the mole, spying on the spies. He also uncovers an operation
    called Witchcraft and runs up against an arch-villain, Karla, a Soviet
    intelligence officer, in an almost ruthlessly unromantic vision of empire dreams
    that unfolds in sad, grubby rooms where the flowered wallpaper is sometimes
    splashed with blood.

    Despite that brutality, “Tinker, Tailor” is suffused with longing and love —
    for a country, a cause, a lover, a father — a theme that poignantly surfaces at
    a boys’ school where Prideaux re-emerges and which, in its cloistered quality,
    mirrors both the big boys’ club that is the Circus and recalls another school
    that haunts the narrative. “Tinker, Tailor” is partly based on the case of Kim
    Philby, one of a
    handful of British spies
    and Cambridge University alumni who were recruited
    by the Soviets in the 1930s. (Mr. le Carré, born David John Moore Cornwell, was
    a British spy whose cover was blown by Philby.) At the school Prideaux meets a
    lonely student, Bill Roach (William Haddock), a moon-faced outsider whom
    Prideaux calls “a good watcher,” a description that, given the sadness that
    cloaks the story’s many watchers, feels chilling.

    First among the watchers, of course, is Smiley, the anti-Bond described by
    Mr. le Carré in “Tinker, Tailor” as looking like “one of London’s meek who do
    not inherit the earth.” Since the 1979 mini-series, the character has been
    synonymous with Guinness’s performance, as Mr. le Carré has acknowledged.
    (Guinness resumed the role in the 1982 mini-series “Smiley’s
    ) Mr. Oldman, now mostly known for his small, sharp turns in big
    movies, playing Harry
    ’s godfather, Sirius Black, and James Gordon in the Batman movies,
    wisely doesn’t reinvent Smiley. Rather — as hinted in an early scene of Smiley
    buying the kind of oversize eyeglasses that Guinness wore — he and Mr. Alfredson
    have opted to build on the original interpretation, using it as a foundational
    text. (Guinness’s turn is the Torah; Mr. Oldman’s the Talmud.)

    It’s a fascinatingly gripping performance that doesn’t so much command the
    screen, dominating it with shouts and displays of obvious technique, as take it
    over incrementally, an occupation that echoes Smiley’s steady incursion into the
    mole’s lair. Again and again, as he does with the other watchers, Mr. Alfredson
    places Smiley on one side of a window, looking out at a world that he both
    belongs to and remains very much outside of. There’s a sense throughout that
    Smiley, preoccupied with thoughts of his errant, faithless wife, Ann (Katrina
    Vasilieva, never viewed in full), doesn’t just live in a place apart but also in
    a kind of dream. Yet like the old Circus — a lost world seen in the intermittent
    flashbacks to a holiday party that, when pieced together, reveal so much,
    including who loved whom and who was betrayed — Ann is an illusion that Smiley
    fights for.

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    Nov 4th, 2010

    What do you think of Oldman’s chances for a nom DD?

    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
    Philip K Dick Blade Runner

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    Sep 26th, 2011

    For what it’s worth, as a tea leaf about some industry expectation, the Arclight in Hollywood – the biggest grossing theatre in the country – is giving its premiere screen to this (the Dome) while Young Adult is also playing there as well.

    We’ll see it performs, but I’m told it is initially very strong.

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    Ethel Charles
    Sep 23rd, 2011

    Wasn’t there a shooting near the Arc Light today?

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    Sep 26th, 2011

    Sure was – my source tells me it had minimal impact (shows already underway, things apparently cleared up so it wasn’t a major problem)

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    Jul 11th, 2011

    Saw it last night at the AMC theater in East Village. Absolutely loved it. Thought the pace was perfect to create the tension. Riveting and affecting; Alfredsson did a great job. The use of the song at the end was inspired.

    The acting was top notch across the board. Not sure what Oldman’s status is lke in the race but he gave a masterclass. Shame that the supporting actors probably did not get enough screen time individually to warrant a nom but there was not a single weak link. Firth and Strong were my favourites; communicated a lot with very little.

    Full house for a Sunday night 6pm screening. Most seemed pretty into the movie. Get the feeling that people don’t really want to push another Brit film this year but I hope this one gets the attention it deserves. Really well made – set and costume design was fantastic and amazing to think they did it for 30 million. 

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    Daniel Montgomery
    May 14th, 2011

    My Review

    I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with a friend of mine. “I’m … confused,” she said as the end credits began to roll. “Me too,” I concurred. We were both relieved; at least we weren’t alone … MY FULL REVIEW

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    Sep 26th, 2011

    Just saw this (at a SAG screening – sort of late in the day for that, no?) – my new favorite 2011 US release, ahead of Poetry, Melancholia and Hugo. I expected it to be good, but not this good – a bravura exercise in style and direction, impeccably crafted and acted, and though no, I didn’t get every last plot point, it did hold together, make sense, and end brilliantly.

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    Daniel Montgomery
    May 14th, 2011

    Just saw this (at a SAG screening – sort of late in the day for that, no?) – my new favorite 2011 US release, ahead of Poetry, Melancholia and Hugo. I expected it to be good, but not this good – a bravura exercise in style and direction, impeccably crafted and acted, and though no, I didn’t get every last plot point, it did hold together, make sense, and end brilliantly.

    I had a problem with the first plot points too. The second and third. All the way through to the last one. My friend and I thought we got the general gist of it, until it was suggested later that, no, we didn’t get that either. I, like you, admire its style, but found its story too impenetrable — and avoidably so — to embrace it fully.

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    Sep 26th, 2011

    I respect that, and expect a lot of people will react the same.

    Perhaps my familiarity with the Le Carre/Smiley world from reading many of his novels and having seen all film and TV adaptations made it easier for me, as well as being prepared up from to pay extraordinarily close attention. And even then, what I might have missed was secondary to the overall unsettling and never what it seems to be world that the characters (although not ultimately Smiley) feel while dealing with all the confusion.


    Something less than a day after seeing it, my feelings though toward it are even stronger than first reaction.

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    Daniel Montgomery
    May 14th, 2011

    I never read the novel, or anything by Le Carre. My only previous exposure to him was “The Constant Gardener,” which ended up my favorite film of 2005. That film had similar complexity but far greater clarity.

    I suspect that reading the novel makes all the difference. I have no doubt I would have enjoyed the film much more greatly if I had such a road map. Being well versed in its story, you could focus on the execution, while trying to muddle through the story broke the spell of its execution for me.

    I’m very surprised by the film’s near-unanimous praise, not because its a bad film, per se, but because it’s so confusing. I’m no genius, but I’m no dummy either, and it’s hard to believe more critics didn’t get as stuck on it as I did. I wonder if sometimes critics are afraid to admit they didn’t get it, and I’m only half-kidding about that. I’ve started skimming some of the reviews, and only Roger Ebert so far admits outright that he wasn’t following it. Owen Gleiberman called it “borderline incomprehensible,” but then essentially praised it for being so.

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