Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy": An Atmospheric Return to the Cold War 

Wednesday, Dec 14 2011
Comments

John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the 1974 spy novel generally regarded as the writer's finest, is predicated on a pair of enigmatic personalities: the colorless bureaucratic master-spook George Smiley and the double agent the Soviets have planted near the top of British intelligence whom Smiley must unmask. Alec Guinness was a memorably gray-faced, doughy protagonist in the 1979 Tinker, Tailor miniseries; Gary Oldman makes for an even more taciturn interrogator and robotically cool master of deductive logic in Swedish director Tomas Alfredson's brooding, fluidly crafted movie adaptation. Best known for the bleak tween vampire drama Let the Right One In, Alfredson is strong on chilly atmospherics. Smiley's London is scarcely less shabby or conspiratorial than early '70s Budapest, where a botched British operation sets the narrative merry-go-round in motion. The "circus" — le Carré's term for MI6 — is in disarray, and the discharged Smiley is metaphorically brought back from the dead to discover which one of his former colleagues is the "mole." As Smiley goes about securing files and interviewing witnesses, Alfredson establishes a universe of technologically primitive dial phones, teletype machines, and reel-to-reel tape recorders. The latest Tinker, Tailor is, in some ways, more explicit regarding various characters' sexual proclivities than was the miniseries. It's also more concise, but what's lost is George's pathos. Oldman's Smiley is less agonized nerd than Asperger brainiac. I missed the final line, delivered in the miniseries by the faithless Mrs. Smiley: "Poor George. You don't know what life is about, do you?"

About The Author

J. Hoberman

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Slideshows

  • SuperHero Street Fair 2014

    From Batman to Superman to steampunk, people dressed up as their favorite superhero — or villain — for the annual SuperHero Street Fair held along Isails Creek, at the end of Indiana Street, on Saturday, Sept. 27. There was food, drinks, and lots of EDM music to dance to — check out all our photos form the event. Photography by Christopher Victorio.

  • @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz Exhibit
    Nathaniel Y. Downes brings back photographs from exhibit @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz. @Large runs through April 26, 2015.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed