I have a soft spot for Le Carré and I went to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with certain trepidation. The reviews were good, but not universally so, and adaptations can be dire – especially of good books and even more especially of good books that have already been adapted into a much-loved TV series.
Famously, Le Carré has compared adapting his novels with turning a rhinoceros into an oxo cube.
Gary Oldman looks moody in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
So what’s it like?
Well, TTSS turns out to be just what I expected, moody and evocative in a neo-romantic way. At least as I use the term. Neo-romantics are less concerned with classically constructed plots, and interwoven subplots, than with mood. The plot and subplots are there, but not the most important thing in the movie.
The movie is watchable, even gripping despite (or perhaps because of) its resolutely deliberate long-held shots (at last a filmmaker who doesn’t need to cut like it’s MTV!)
The film is set in the 1970s – as was the novel. However the novel (and TV series) were contemporary fiction. By keeping the same period, the movie is set in the past.
This has allowed some reviewers to criticise it for being irrelevant today. I’m not so sure. The contemporary relevance was clear for me but not hammered home – essentially it’s about betrayal of trust, corruption and courage.
There was no attempt to say “look how this compares to 2011” but an intelligent audience would get the point.
However, the movie fell short of greatness. At their best Le Carré’s books pack a surprising emotional punch at the end – which is largely down to a deep involvement with the characters. Here, the mood was all – and somehow the screen characters never got the extra oomph that they did on the page, so the final whammy never quite hit home.
And you don’t get involved in the detective story as participant so much as detached observer – there is little chance for the audience to evaluate the suspects for themselves. Same reason, not enough character development.
It’s not easy fitting a novel into 127 mins.
Having said that, the time flew by, the style and mood were the point and while I usually hate films where that’s the case, in this instance I thought it was justified.
Monet rather than Velasquez, if you see what I mean.
Yet still one of the best movies around. Recommended.