Many people (including John) quite liked Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  A common reason for their appreciation of the film seems to focus on how the movie kept peeling back layers upon layers of spy intrigue to eventually reveal which of the four people represented by the codenames (or actually five, Poorman is a suspect as well), high up in the British spy department, is actually a mole, reporting back to the KGB.  That’s a generalization, of course, but I think a fair one.  And anyway, I come not to attack a strawman, because I think this argument is perfectly logical and reasonable.  The film does slowly reveal information, I don’t want to say in the style of Rashomon but we learn more and more about certain things, until it arrives at a rather satisfactory answer.

For me, however, that’s like saying a present was good because it was packaged in a whole lot of wrapping paper, even if it did end up being a pair of socks.

The overaching problem, for me, is that the “suspects” were on screen for so little time that it was impossible to be emotionally invested in the outcome of the investigation.  Ciaran Hinds, for example, is in maybe five scenes, and has more than one line in two of them?  Colin Firth and Toby Jones each have maybe three or four scenes.  It is telling that none of these superb actors are even on the periphery of the Oscar conversation and haven’t been cited by any awards so far.  And that lack of presence was an unhurdled stumbling block for me.

The script focuses more on the process and events that lead Gary Oldman to his conclusion.  Which is why, in part, the two supporting actors nominated by the British Independent Film Awards were Tom Hardy, playing an agent in the field, and Benedict Cumberbatch, who becomes Oldman’s right hand man.  If you’ll indulge me (and you really shouldn’t), let’s take a brief detour here.  In pretty much every review/news item about this film, Cumberbatch’s name will be mentioned in the same breath as Sherlock, the BBC series where he plays the famous detective.  As pretty much everyone else says, the first three episodes of Sherlock were simply fantastic and deserve to be watched.  So I’m happy, in that sense.  But, excuse me?  Ever hear of a little movie called Starter for Ten, where Cumberbatch plays the mildly annoying captain of a college quiz bowl team?  Well, you should have.  Look, I’m not saying I’m a better person than everyone else for being in love with this movie and thus being on (if you will) Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, and Alice Eve before their current rise to fame.  But I think it is pretty well implied.

Like every other decent human being, I’m a big Gary Oldman fan.  It is so rare that we get to see an actor disappear into such a wide swath of roles.  How many other people could play over the top villains in things like The Fifth Element or The Professional or maybe Red Riding Hood (seriously, he’s INSANE in that one) and also be so serenely restrained in The Dark Knight?  Here he’s much more the latter.  Seemingly cold and emotionless but never quite veering onto the cruel side of the fence, he’s everything you’d expect from a British spymaster.  But here again, I think the script gets in the way of the awards, preventing him from showing something truly top-notch.  Believe me, I wouldn’t be unhappy to see a Gary Oldman nomination, and if he gets it, he won’t be the worst nominee.  But I don’t really see how someone could pick this role over, for example, Brendan Gleeson’s in The Guard.

For me, the script substitutes vagueness and confusion for misdirection and half-truths.  The plot (and maybe this is on Le Carre, I haven’t read the novel) is actually relatively straightforward. But needing to kill a couple hours, the film takes its sweet time getting to any useful information.  By which point, the intel barely seems relevant.

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