Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy ***

January 19, 2012 by J-Wire
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For decades, the spy thriller has been dominated by one name: Bond. 007’s trappings, which include pyrotechnics, high-octane chases, death-defying stunts, gorgeous women, and the like, have come to define the genre. While it’s unquestionable that Ian Fleming’s superspy has left an indelible impression on movies and novels, it would not be reasonable to apply Bond-generated expectations to the grounded endeavors of John le Carré and Len Deighton. Both authors began writing in the early 1960s with the primary purpose of creating “anti-Bond” protagonists. For Deighton, it was Harry Palmer (played in three films by Michael Caine). For Le Carré, it was George Smiley. Physically unprepossessing, meek in manner, emotionally cool, and antisocial, Smiley’s primary weapon is his mind not a gun. He is a master tactician of the Cold War, matching wits against the best the KGB has to offer.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is regarded by critics as being among the best of Le Carré’s yarns. A faithful adaptation (which this is) has two requirements: the narrative must be dense and the pace must be slow. Le Carré’s stories have no room for mindless action; they are heavily plot-driven, which makes them a challenge to adapt. Two hours is probably too short. The condensation required to cram the essence of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy into a feature film of reasonable length is likely to result in less attentive audience members becoming lost along the way. Even a quick trip to the bathroom could be a viewer’s undoing. And, although the pacing is slow, events move rapidly. A lot happens, but little is explosive.

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