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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy(2011)
In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6's echelons.
For more about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Blu-ray release, see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on March 18, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Toby Jones
Director: Tomas Alfredson
» See full cast & crew
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Blu-ray Review
"It's about which master you've been serving..."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, March 18, 2012
The enigmatically titled Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is as guarded and inscrutable as the senior British Intelligence officers at the center of its at-times impenetrable plot. And what a plot it is. Perplexing one moment, cryptic the next, it unfolds with the infuriating elegance of an expertly crafted puzzle box. Most of its secrets remain secret; its revelations are often shrouded in further intrigue; even the spies we're meant to trust are, by their very calling, untrustworthy. Still, it would be a grave mistake to label Peter Straughan and Bridget O'Connor's Oscar-nominated adaptation of author John le Carré's 1974 spy novel convoluted or diffuse. Let the Right One In director Tomas Alfredson isn't all that interested in the particulars of le Carré's mole hunt anyway. His chief interests lie in creating a theater of tense uncertainty; a Cold War microcosm in which disinformation and distrust blur the lines between ally and enemy; a chess game in which, at any given moment, each piece is unsure of whether it's a pawn or a knight, a bishop or a queen.
1973. A deep cover agent named Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) learns that a mole has infiltrated the upper ranks of "The Circus," the foremost division of the British Secret Intelligence Service. The head of the Circus, Control (John Hurt), narrows down the suspects to five of his closest officers: Percy Alleline, whom Control dubs "Tinker" (Toby Jones); Bill Haydon, dubbed "Tailor" (Colin Firth); Roy Bland, "Soldier" (Ciarán Hinds); Toby Esterhase, "Poorman" (David Dencik); and George Smiley, "Beggarman" (Gary Oldman). In an effort to lock down the identity of the mole, Control dispatches agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Hungary to barter for information. It doesn't go well. Prideaux is shot, imprisoned and tortured, Control is dismissed from the SIS, and Smiley is forced into early retirement. Fast forward to 1974. More information comes to light, once again suggesting once again there is indeed a Russian spy prowling the MI6 halls. Smiley is approached by the Home Civil Service and tasked with reopening Control's investigation, albeit with greater secrecy. With no one he can trust, Smiley elicits the help of an outside agent, MI6's "dirty jobs" head Peter Guillam (Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch). Together, Smiley and Guillam work to root out the mole, plug leaks within the Circus, and distinguish friend from foe.
While Tinker Tailor's complex, nonlinear plotting, seemingly endless supply of characters, and inexhaustible espionage jargon will hold even the most attentive cinephiles at a distance (at least upon first viewing), its absorbing performances will draw in even the most bewildered newcomers. Jones, Firth, Hinds and Dencik (opportunistic power mongers all) make it next to impossible to identify the mole with any measure of certainty, if only because each officer fits the bill so well. If you peg the Soviet spy at any point prior to Smiley's inevitable confrontation, it will only be because you took a shot in the dark and lucked out; not because Jones and his cagey cohorts showed their hand or revealed anything more than they were meant to. (Had it turned out to be all four of them, I don't know that I would have been all that shocked. Surprised and underwhelmed, sure. But shocked? Not with this lot.) Hurt, Hardy, Strong and Cumberbatch are outstanding as well, even tough they have the more thankless job of injecting vulnerability and pathos into the Circus's cannibalistic Cold War circle. Hurt only has a few minutes of screentime but invests his all; Hardy is, as always, magnetic despite his troubling duality; Strong (walking the straight and narrow for once in his villainous career) is quiet and pensive, brandishing disgrace as if it were a suicidal man's razor blade; and Cumberbatch is second only to Oldman, offering an unexpected dose of fragility and impulse in an arena that capitalizes on both.
And Oldman? Dear Commissioner Gordon delivers one of the finest performances of his career, retreating into the solemn, tight-lipped recesses of a habitually deliberate strategist who only speaks when something is worth saying, only moves when the time is right, and only strikes when an opening presents itself. His world-weary George Smiley is tired and tireless, composed and relentless, mild-mannered and decisive, and he defies his character's age and reputation as readily as he defies expectation as a veteran actor. In many ways, watching Oldman work is the same as watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy work. The two are irrevocably linked, and Smiley's presence is felt even when Alfredson checks in with agent Prideaux, follows Guillam into a secure SIS records vault, or delves into Tarr's most recent mission and the truth of his apparent defection. With so much information to process, so many clues to catalog, and so many suspects, motivations and betrayals to sort through, Oldman's performance is also the film's lone anchor point. As slippery as the story tends to be -- particularly in its first twenty minutes, when footholds are few and far between -- you'll find yourself gravitating to Smiley, not only because he's the sole agent of surety, and a fascinating, wholly unconventional protagonist at that, but because he's as elusive a character as the turncoat in his midst.
As engrossing as Oldman's performance and Smiley's world is, though, Tinker Tailor can be an extremely frustrating, even alienating experience. While a second trip through the film is far more rewarding than the first (so much so that I highly recommend multiple viewings), many simply won't care to give it another chance. It wasn't until the third act that I had a firm grasp on the full story, and even then I knew I had completely missed crucial bits of information. It doesn't help that Alfredson frequently cuts his shots jarringly short, darting away after offering tantalizing, split-second glimpses behind the Circus curtain; that O'Connor and Straughan's script bounces from timeline to timeline, country to country, office to office, often with little context or prior warning; or that the ending meanders out of the woods, takes a silent shot, and walks away as if something more considerable than capturing a mole has been accomplished. All that said, I appreciate when meticulously plotted films don't always take the time to wait for me when I fall behind; when a single viewing isn't enough; when a slowburn spy thriller abandons easy exposition in favor of immersive internal logic and self-contained realism. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy may not be immediately accessible -- or all that accessible at all -- but it proceeds with an understated confidence and almost silent intensity that makes it a far more intriguing mole hunt than your run-of-the-mill spy thriller.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Blu-ray, Video Quality
While Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is certainly one of the grainier films on the new theatrical release market, Universal's faithful 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode doesn't tinker with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema's photography or tailor director Tomas Alfredson's intentions. Van Hoytema's palette is bleak, smoky and evasive, and purposefully indulges in subdued primaries and muted blacks. Skintones have been carefully saturated, though, and the darkest corners of the Circus are deep and absorbing. Contrast and clarity fluctuates a tad too, but only insofar as the filmmakers see fit. Not that any videophile should be the least bit concerned. Detail is exceptional on the whole, with plenty of wonderfully resolved fine textures, nicely delineated shadows, striking closeups, and crisp, clean edges to go around. Moreover, macroblocking, banding, aliasing, ringing, crush and other unwanted intruders are nowhere to be found, and the only issue worth mentioning revolves around the film's at-times uneven grain field, which opens the door to infrequent, altogether negligible artifacting. (None of which amounts to even a remotely significant distraction.) Ultimately, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy looks fantastic. Grain grimacers may take issue with its filmic presentation, but cinephiles will be thoroughly pleased with Universal's efforts.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Blu-ray, Audio Quality
If Universal's video presentation is faithful to its source, its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is almost indistinguishable from reality. Atmosphere and ambience are paramount to any spy thriller, and it's often the slightest details that shatter or solidify a subdued soundscape's reputation. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy not only embraces each one, it revels in the quiet, seemingly innocuous sonics other films leave by the wayside thanks to scrupulous rear speaker activity, exacting directionality and an all-encompassing, fully enveloping soundfield. Yes, car chases, gunfire and explosions are in short supply, but volume doesn't equal quality, and aggression certainly doesn't equal finesse. LFE output is restrained but remarkable, infusing further subtlety into an already nuanced experience; dynamics are inconspicuous but extremely effective, crafting a world as convincing as it is enveloping; Alberto Iglesias's score is engaging and engrossing, advancing and retreating with caution and precision; and dialogue is clear and intelligible without exception, no matter how hushed the secret, how reserved the revelation, or how silent the spy. Not everyone will be so quick to offer such high praise, but that doesn't change the fact that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy boasts one of the best lossless tracks of the year thus far.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
As exasperating and exhausting as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy can be, Oldman's Oscar-nominated performance is an exercise in masterful restraint and deliberate discretion, the film's supporting actors are excellent, its pacing and plotting are exacting, and its finer mysteries continue to thrive over the course of multiple viewings. Don't let the first act overwhelm you either; the film is well worth the investment and promises to grow even stronger with each successive viewing. Universal's Blu-ray release is outstanding too, with a near-perfect video transfer, an extraordinary DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and a solid selection of suitably revealing and satisfying special features. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a disciplined, demanding and occasionally taxing film, but the rewards far outweigh any risks.
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