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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/20/2012

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/26/2012

Those who didn't live through the Cold War probably don't understand what a scary time it was. From the late 1950s until the late 1980s, the United States and its allies (namely Britain) and the Soviet Union had a standoff where each had a cache of nuclear weapons, just in case the other attacked. During this time, military intelligence agencies reigned supreme and spies traveled the world attempting to learn what activities the enemy was planning. While the public was riddled with anxiety due to the ever-looming threat of global thermonuclear war, these spies were risking their lives behind enemy lines. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, based on the novel by John le Carre, examines the lives of these individuals.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is set in 1973 and focuses on the British intelligence agency MI-6, known to insiders as the "Circus". As the story opens, Control (John Hurt) sends Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Hungary on a mission. When it's botched, Control is asked to step down, and his right hand man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is forced into early retirement. Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney) comes to Smiley and asks him for help, as he's convinced that there's a Russian "mole" in the Circus. Enlisting the help of Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), Smiley begins to investigate and learns that Control was not only on the same path, but he'd singled out a group of suspects. Smiley must now weed through evidence from the Circus and stories from a rogue agent (Tom Hardy) without raising any suspicion.

When we think of spy movies, what immediately comes to mind? James Bond, of course. We think about over-the-top action, crazy gadgets, exotic locales, and beautiful women. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants to be the antithesis of this, as it shows us the workaday and mundane side of spying. Smiley must sort through documents, listen to tapped phone conversations, and interview people. The most exotic locale that he visits is the English countryside and the only beautiful women in the film are glimpsed in the background. But, that's not to say that what Smiley is doing is any less dangerous than what James Bond does. If the mole learned of his investigation, Smiley could be putting himself at great risk.

So, I appreciate the fact that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants to be the epitome of Cold War spy drama and demonstrate that not all spies are men of action, but why did it have to be so mind-numbingly boring? The film comes from Swedish Director Tomas Alfredson who also made the over-rated vampire film Let the Right One In. The man has never met a slow-pace that he didn't like and most of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy merely creeps along. I can appreciate the fact that this is not an action movie, but there are far too many long, quiet moments in the film. This pacing wrecks any emotional content in the movie, save for the fact that we feel sorry for Smiley and his odd life at times. The story ostensibly wants to build suspense as Smiley searches for the mole, but it fails in this on two fronts. First of all, the snail-like pacing doesn't work as a "slow burn" as we've seen in other movies. It simply plods along building no momentum or kinetic energy. Secondly, when the mole is exposed, my response was, "Oh, was I not supposed to know that it was them?" The movie lays out the four suspects -- who are the "tinker", "tailor", "soldier", and "spy" of the title -- but lets us know very little about them, but I thought that the answer was quite obvious.

I have not read le Carre's novel or seen the 1979 British series starring Alec Guinness, so this was my first exposure to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. But, something tells me that it was never meant to be boring. It's sad that the movie is so sluggish, as the cast is very appealing and the acting is top-notch. It's clear what Oldman got an Oscar nod, as this normally edgy actor plays Smiley as a man who is very still, never wasting a motion. The familiar British faces - Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds, and Toby Jones -- make the film easier to access, but it's still impossible to embrace. Some spies may have mundane jobs, but we should never be subjected to mundane movies.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy shows that bees don't like to ride in cars on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 32 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source material. However, there is grain on the image at times, but I get the sense that this was an artistic choice and not an issue with the transfer. The movie is awash in browns, grays, and blacks, so any splash of colors looks good. Despite this, the image is never overly dark. The level of detail is good, as is the depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a very subtle track, as the film contains many quiet moments. Street scenes do provide some noticeably stereo and surround effects which are nicely detailed. The musical score sounds fine, but I didn't note any overt subwoofer effects.

The Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring Director Tomas Alfredson and Gary Oldman. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 6 minutes. These are all filler, most notably the long scene where Smiley cooks an egg. If you've ever wanted to watch Gary Oldman make breakfast, you're in for a treat. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: First Look" (13 minutes) is a slick making-of featurette which plays more like a electronic press-kit. It contains comments from the cast and Alfredson, as well as many clips from the movie. The speakers discuss the story and their characters. The Disc contains interviews with Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Alfredson & Co-Writer Peter Straughn and Author John le Carre which run 25 minutes in total.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long