Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I was not certain whether I should go see the recent film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, since I vividly remember the television mini-series that starred Alec Guinness as George Smiley. I was afraid the film would not live to up that, but I found it entertaining. Tomas Alfredson has directed a highly polished film that features strong performances. It is perhaps unavoidably a bit hard to follow at times, since it squeezes John le Carré’s sprawling novel into a two-hour film. (Here is the one area where television has an advantage over cinema: one can tell a story over a longer period of time.)

Gary Oldman is good as Smiley, although I prefer Guiness’s performance. Oldman makes the character seem a bit too much like Obi-Wan Kenobi (who was played by Guinness, interestingly enough), a wise old father figure. Guinness did a better job of conveying the character’s insecurities and moments of self-doubt.

In case you don’t know, the film, which takes place during the Cold War, is about a retired intelligence agent, George Smiley, who is called back into service to uncover a Soviet mole who has infiltrated the top level of Britain’s intelligence service. I might have liked this film better if it had dealt more with the political issues of the Cold War. When, for example, Smiley finally confronts the mole, the latter gives a vague explanation of his betrayal. He says the West has “gone to Hell”, although he doesn’t say why he thinks this. One does get the impression that le Carré himself took a lesser evil view of the West. The Soviet agents in this film torture and kill people, whereas the British agents are merely bullying and deceitful.

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