Based on the 70’s novel from former MI6 spy, John Le Carre, Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is exactly like The Borne Identity series, if you were to watch someone thinking about it.
Presumably, TTSS is much closer to how Cold War espionage worked…sitting around, observing, thinking, watching, contemplating, and perhaps making a phone call. But as an audience member you cannot turn away. You cannot leave to take a piss. You can’t even look down to make sure you are reaching into the bag of popcorn. If you do, you might miss something important. Every piece of information, every word that is said, every frame of film contributes to the mystery, and like forcibly retired MI6 spy George Smiley, the audience must observe with focused attention to stay with the game.
Let The Right One In Swedish director Tomas Alfredson and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, gives the film a brown and grey palette, causing nothing to be spectacular or flashy. The camera work is general slow and drawn out. There is one scene with Smiley confronting one of the other heads of “The Circus” – industry-speak for the British Intelligence — Anyway, it’s a two shot of the spies on an airstrip. As they talk, a twin-engine private plane lands off in the distance, and comes down the runway toward them – for a good minute or two while they continue to talk. The plane continued to approach. Finally, it wheels around right behind them, turning so that the door opens and reveals a third character. One shot. No cutting back and forth. No closeups. The tension is built because of what is being spoken. The actors just work their magic, speaking more through what remains unspoken. But in the eyes of the characters, we can see all the processing that is happening, as Gary Oldman’s interpretation of Smiley puts all of the pieces together to figure out who in MI6 is the Russian mole and why. In fact, every actor is exceptional, bringing depth and dimension to each, allowing us to pay attention to the insane amount of clues without having to ask stupid questions like “who is that guy again?”
From what I have come to understand, people who have read the novel enjoy the film much more than those who have not. This presumably is because the readers already have an insight in the story, so they can read into the visual cues much more quickly and deeply than those who are going in cold. I’m sure that with this knowledge comes a much more relaxed and enjoyable viewing, because the process of taking in the data is not a chore. And like I said, there is a LOT of data to absorb. In fact, the original film adaptation with Alec Guinness in the late 70s had to be a seven episode mini-series to squish everything in. I can’t imagine how they compacted it into a feature length.
All in all, if you want to see some fantastic actors acting fantastically, by all means, take the time – its worth it… if you appreciate that kind of thing. Make sure your brain is well rested. If you want to see super spies infiltrating secret hideaways of masterminds with Persian cats, don’t go see this.