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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)

aka Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

"How do you find an enemy who is hidden right before your eyes?"

Directed By: 
Details: 127 mins · English, Russian, French, Hungarian · R (USA)

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I haven’t read John Le Carré’s novel, but recently I tried to watch the 1979 BBC TV adaptation on DVD. Really, I tried. I don’t have a problem with long, slow dramas, and I realise that this is Le Carré, not Ian Fleming, but this was a bit extreme. I made it through one and a half episodes before deciding that life’s too short. So when a friend suggested we see the recent film version I was a little wary, but I figured that a two hour version of the story was bound to be at least slightly snappier than the seven hour version.

It was interesting to see where they’d tightened the storytelling a little, and to compare the casting. I think Beryl Reid was better in the original than Kathy Burke in the same role in the film, but Tom Hardy makes for a better Ricky Tarr – more vulnerable and nervy – than the original’s Hywel Bennet. Gary Oldman’s almost as good as everyone says he is, although I think there’s a fine line here between underplaying and just not doing very much.

The plot jum...(more)

I haven’t read John Le Carré’s novel, but recently I tried to watch the 1979 BBC TV adaptation on DVD. Really, I tried. I don’t have a problem with long, slow dramas, and I realise that this is Le Carré, not Ian Fleming, but this was a bit extreme. I made it through one and a half episodes before deciding that life’s too short. So when a friend suggested we see the recent film version I was a little wary, but I figured that a two hour version of the story was bound to be at least slightly snappier than the seven hour version.

It was interesting to see where they’d tightened the storytelling a little, and to compare the casting. I think Beryl Reid was better in the original than Kathy Burke in the same role in the film, but Tom Hardy makes for a better Ricky Tarr – more vulnerable and nervy – than the original’s Hywel Bennet. Gary Oldman’s almost as good as everyone says he is, although I think there’s a fine line here between underplaying and just not doing very much.

The plot jumps around quite a bit, without necessarily telling where or when you are, so it was a challenge to keep up, but I did manage. My main problem with the plot was the final reveal. Without getting into spoilers, we’re told at the start that one of four men is the mole, and at the end they just point to one of them and say “It was him”, which is anticlimactic to say the least. And since we’ve been told little or nothing about any of these men in the preceding two hours, there’s no emotional impact to the revelation. Later we find out some of the characters’ secrets and it add some much-needed dimension, but surely this stuff would have been better placed earlier in the film? Plus, as my friend remarked, the “Ooh, wasn’t 1970s Britain grim and grey and depressing” atmosphere is laid on a bit thick. (less)

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Cast:

Small Bill Haydon
Small Jim Prideaux
Small Ricki Tarr
Small George Smiley
Small Peter Guillam
Small Percy Alleline
No_movie_poster Toby Esterhase
Small Roy Bland
Small Control
Small Magyar
No_movie_poster Hungarian Waiter
No_movie_poster Woman in Window
No_movie_poster KGB Agent
Small Connie Sachs
Small Jerry Westerby
No_movie_poster Bryant
Small Oliver Lacon
Small Belinda
Small Irina
No_movie_poster Tufty Thesinger
No_movie_poster Kasper
No_movie_poster Ann Smiley
Small
Small

Crew:

No_movie_poster John le Carré Novel
No_movie_poster Peter Straughan Screenplay
Small Tomas Alfredson Director
No_movie_poster Bridget O'Connor Screenplay
No_movie_poster Eric Fellner Production
No_movie_poster Tim Bevan Production
No_movie_poster Robyn Slovo Production
No_movie_poster John le Carré Story Contributor
No_movie_poster Dino Jonsäter Editing

Taglines:

"How do you find an enemy who is hidden right before your eyes?"

Plot:

In October 1973, Control, the head of British Intelligence ("the Circus"), sends agent Jim Prideaux to Budapest in Communist Hungary to meet a Hungarian general who had promised to deliver valuable information. However, Prideaux is shot and captured by Soviet agents. Amid the international incident that follows, Control and his right-hand man George Smiley are forced into retirement. Control, already ill, dies soon afterwards.

Percy Alleline becomes the new Chief of the Circus, with Bill Haydon as his deputy and Roy Bland and Toby Esterhase as close allies. They initiate a secretive operation called "Witchcraft" to obtain valuable Soviet intelligence. Control and Smiley had distrusted the material produced by Witchcraft, which is being shared with the United States in exchange for valuable American intelligence.

Smiley is brought out of retirement by Oliver Lacon, the civil servant in charge of intelligence, to investigate a claim by Ricki Tarr, an MI6 operative thought to have defected, that there has been a long-term mole in a senior role in British Intelligence. Control had held this suspicion as well. Working outside of the Circus, Smiley chooses a few men to assist his investigation, primarily Peter Guillam, and begins to interview people who left the Circus about the same time as he and Control did.

One is Connie Sachs, who had been sacked by Alleline after claiming that Alexei Polyakov, a Soviet cultural attaché in London, was a Soviet spy. Another is Jerry Westerby, who had been duty clerk on the night Prideaux was shot. Westerby says that on that night he called Smiley's house for instructions, but Ann, Smiley's wife at the time, had answered. Shortly after, Haydon arrived at the Circus and said that he saw the news on the tickertape at his club. Smiley realizes that Haydon must have heard the news from Ann, confirming his suspicion that the two had been having an affair.

Smiley comes home and finds Tarr hiding there. Tarr tells him that he had been sent to Istanbul to investigate a Soviet agent named Boris. Tarr found that Boris had no significance, but that Boris's wife Irina was also an operative and seemed to have information. So Tarr overstayed in Istanbul and started having an affair with Irina to gain her trust. Irina, however, knew who Tarr was, and asked to trade the information — that a mole working for a KGB spymaster named Karla existed in the top ranks of the Circus — for a new life in the West.

Tarr sent Irina's request back to London, but the reply did not come for several hours. The reply ignored Irina's request and said to come home immediately. Tarr then finds that Boris, as well as the British station chief in Istanbul, have been killed. Tarr saw Irina captured and being taken back to Russia, and was subsequently accused of defecting and of murdering the British station chief, so he went into hiding.

Guillam is sent by Smiley to steal the Circus logbook for the night Tarr called: he finds the pages for that night are cut out, suggesting that Tarr's story is true.

Prideaux, who was secretly returned by the Russians but sacked from the service, is now in hiding, disguised as a language teacher at a boys' school. Prideaux reveals to Smiley that the purpose of the Hungary mission was to get the name of the mole. Control had codenamed the suspects "Tinker" (Alleline), "Tailor" (Haydon), "Soldier" (Bland), "Poorman" (Esterhase) and "Beggarman" (Smiley himself). Prideaux tells how he was brutally interrogated and gave in, and also how he saw a blonde female prisoner (Irina) being shot in front of him. However, says Prideaux, the Soviets already knew of Control's investigation into the mole, and were only interested in finding out how far that investigation had progressed.

Smiley learns that Alleline, Haydon, Bland, and Esterhase have been regularly meeting Polyakov – the "Witchcraft" source – at a safe house to get material. At every meeting, Polyakov gives these men supposedly high-grade Soviet intelligence in exchange for low-grade British material that helps him maintain his cover with the Soviets. In reality, however, one of these men is the mole, and is passing along substantive material, including American intelligence, and Polyakov is his handler. The material Polyakov passes along is mostly "chicken feed", with just enough substance to persuade the Americans to share information with the British.

Smiley gets the safe house's location by threatening to deport Esterhase, who was formerly Hungarian and would surely be treated as a traitor there. Smiley then sets a trap by having Tarr appear at the Paris office announcing he knows who the mole is and is ready to give the name. The mole hears this, and immediately arranges with Polyakov to meet at the safe house to ask the Soviets to kill Tarr. Smiley waits at the safe house and captures the mole: Haydon.

At the Circus interrogation centre in Sarratt, Haydon reveals that he seduced Smiley's wife on Karla's orders, in order to distort any suspicions Smiley may have had of Haydon. Haydon also reveals that Prideaux confided in him about Control's suspicion of a mole right before Prideaux left for Hungary, since they were close friends. The Circus makes plans to exchange Haydon back to the Soviets, but Prideaux, having learned of how Haydon betrayed him, kills him. Smiley is restored to the Circus as its chief.

Release Dates:

Theatrical : 2011-11-18 : Estonia

Theatrical : 2012-01-06 : United States of America

DVD : 2012-03-20

2011-12-09 : United States of America