I’m all for films that take their time. There’s nothing quite like the bravery of a picture that dares to engage by fleshing out those quiet moments and infusing character insights that longingly linger. In his previous film "Let The Right One In," Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson wielded this delicate bravado like a master swordsman, bringing his slow and methodic style to the done-to-death tale of vampires to illicit freshness. Problem is that in his latest outing "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" the long book and material upon which the film is based and the unrushed pacing of Alfredson makes for a seriously unromantic marriage doomed for divorce and in turn produces one of the most slow, drawn-out and distinctively drab films of 2011.
It’s 1973 and the British Secret Intelligent Service is quietly striving to keep up with the pace of other countries and their far superior espionage skills. So when one of the main operatives is sent into Hungry and ends up dead, the head of the SIS named Control is forced out – as is his top Lieutenant George Smiley. But with a nagging feeling that there is a mole inside the SIS at work, they re-hire career spy Smiley and team him with a young agent to find the culprit. Is it nickname Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Poor Man or perhaps even Smiley himself – who is the spy?
The above is a graciously encapsulated description of a film that unrelentingly goes on forever – and then some. The constant subtle nuances, long lasting and never ending Gary Oldman stares and desperate need to highlight every seemingly fervent detail makes Spy one long ride to the movies. The cast is a virtual who’s who of top-notch talent – Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Hardy and Mark Strong – but even all together can’t make this boring material take film flight. (And with such a cast that is a serious feat!) Plus for all the interest invested by the audience in the question of ‘who is the mole?’ by the time the answer is finally revealed nobody is awake to even care. (I caught a few folks looking like they were dozing off!)
Look, I’m not saying that Alfredson should have sped this one up, but the pairing of such mundane and already moving-at-a-snails-pace material with his previously gorgeous unhurried Swedish approach is not the right pairing for success this time around. Some may say that the film’s attention to detail, deliberate drama and stellar cast shows courage and reeks of Oscar buzz, but I say don't be fooled. If we celebrate films for merely just having such indie elements, we belittle bold and beautiful five-star notables like "Let The Right One In" that truly master the mix. Which of the four horsemen Tinker, Tailor, Soldier or Spy is the dullest? Answer - all of the above.
"TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY" OPENS IN SELECT THEATERS DEC. 9 FROM FOCUS FEATURES.