Is 2011’s Tinker Tailer Solier Spy a fine slice of cinematic genius, or the best cure for insomnia since Little House on the Prairie?
The answer is: both. Allow me to illustrate this with a timeline.
13-07-12 – Attempt #1. Hired the DVD from the local store and BAM, fell asleep before Act 2. Hint: Do not watch this film while tired.
14-07-12 – Attempt #2. Got bored after 30 minutes and switched on the Doctor Who. Returned the DVD the next day.
07-09-12 – Attempt #3. Fell asleep at around the half-hour mark… And I wasn’t even tired!
21-09-12 – Attempt #4. Tired, but determined to finish it. Fell asleep half-way through.
11-10-12 – Attempt #5. Made it! Tired, mind, so I understood bollocks all.
12-10-12 – Read the synopsis on Wikipedia. Starting to make more sense now.
13-10-12 – Watched it through again. I can now appreciate the film in all its slow-paced glory.
You see, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a well thought-out, well structured and well realised piece of traditional cinematic espionage class. Problem is, it’s so. Damn. Slow. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not one for mindless Bourne-style action. Oh no. I think we all learned our lesson from the opening scene of Quantum of Solace. But Tinker Tailor‘s pace truly detracts from the viewing experience, at least the first time through.
The plot boils down to a fairly simple premise: There is a mole in British Intelligence, and we must find out which of the five lead characters it is. However the story is far from simple. One feels that the script was aimed at John LeCarré fans (on whose novel the film is based) and not for the casual, constant viewer.
What makes Tinker Tailor more confusing is its character names – at first, characters are referred to by their first names, then suddenly by their second, and we poor viewers are left to stitch together the pieces by guessing at which character is which. Once again, the film echoes the complexities of a script intended for an audience already acquainted with LeCarré’s characters and themes. We mere mortals who are familiar with the Bonds and the Bournes of the espionage world will find this a tough film to drive.
Nonetheless the film is, in some respects, a work of near-genius. Once adjusted to the slow pace, the film creates a constant air of tension, and many elements (such as the cinematography and star-filled cast) are unexpectedly -and at times poignantly- memorable. But should this make up for the fact that the film requires repeat viewings to understand? Or the fact that it took me five attempts to finish?
It depends the individual.
As a reviewer I’ve come to an impasse: Yes, the film does have its merits, but its complexity and slow pace really do undermine its worth.
My suggestion would be to read a spoiler-free synopsis first (I’ve posted one here), and get acquainted with the characters, then, when feeling up to it, sit down with an espresso and prepare for two hours of realist espionage thriller.