Friday, 23 September 2011

In the Bleak Midwinter

15 – 27mins – 2011
Screenplay by: Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan
Based on the 1974 novel by: John LeCarré
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Dencik, Stephen Graham, Simon McBurney, Toby Jones, John Hurt, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Kathy Burke, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Christian McKay, Konstantin Khabenskiy


A film I had no personal interest in watching but felt almost duty-bound to see due to its stellar cast and the almost unanimous praise bestowed upon it by an awe-struck media (“Utterly Absorbing”, “A Masterpiece”, “stylish and sophisticated” – I could go on). If you’re expecting me to tow the line and brown-nose Tomas Let the Right On In Alfredson’s bum-numbing adap of espionage novelist John Le Carré’s Cold War spy drama just because everyone else has fallen under the spell of the general consensus, then click away now – you’ve come to the wrong Shack!

Some twenty minutes into this cold, drab, greyscaled game of vocal chess between despondent MI6 pawns, a group of six people sitting a few rows in front of me in the cinema had had enough and rather less than subtlety poured towards the exit. Five minutes passed by, then a second contingent of three followed suit and bailed out. Ordinarily, I would tut in disbelief at such impulsive pre-judgement, but sadly, with Tinker, Tailor… I could fully identify with their pain.

Admittedly I have not read the 1974 source novel, nor watched the Alec Guinness-starring BBC mini-series from ’77 (recently re-released on DVD, for any who care to check it out). I’m also somewhat less than au fait with the inner workings of the British secret service some thirty-odd years ago (surprisingly!!), so I can hardly claim to have been “prepared” entering the cinema. Unfortunately, such research was clearly a prerequisite to understanding a bloody thing that was going on before my shell-shocked eyes!

Headed up by the ironically named George Smiley (Oldman), a complex hunt for the Soviet mole in the British “Circus” was made all the more incomprehensible and darn near impenetrable by an overused predilection for jumping headlong into a flashback the second a character starts a recollection. Shuffle in your seat or cast your eyes popcorn-wards and you won’t know where or when you are in the ever-flitting chronology – don’t even contemplate nipping to the loo!

If you’re looking for action or excitement from your big screen experience, then forget it; screenwriters Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan’s dense, crawling script is void of any kinetic energy, instead stocked to the gills on verbose jargon. It’s commendable, I suppose, that the film isn’t dumbed down for today’s impatient, mindless audiences, but we need an aperture into the action [sic], and Tinker, Tailor does not afford us that luxury. The mole, when he/she is finally revealed, could well have been any of the bigwig suspects for all I knew (or cared!).

Although I could appreciate the simmering intensity and nuanced performances from such cinematic A-listers as Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy and John Hurt, I cannot claim to identify or sympathise with any of the soulless, miserable, uptight British intelligence officers they played, all of whom – even the long retired ones such as Kathy Burke’s neurotic wreck – seem to be in way over their heads and would have been far better off with jobs of less international consequence. It’s not a job to take lightly – and, rather appropriately, Tomas Alfredson's protracted investigative drama is not a film to enter into lightly, either.

In a CR@B Shell: Commendably astute thesp work from the best in the business is not enough to save this tedious, unfathomable and overlong spy thriller from boring me to tears. Controversial though my opinion may be, it is my opinion and I can’t imagine ever wanted to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy again – at least not until I’ve got to grips with the novel first!

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