'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' Review: Serious, Sober and Soporific

Despite the cascade of critical praise splashing down on the new "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," it’s not hard to imagine the movie being greeted with bafflement, and possibly boredom, by many viewers, especially those who’ve never read the 1974 John le Carré spy novel on which it’s based, or who are unfamiliar with the 1979 BBC miniseries of the same name, which is superior in every way.

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Le Carré’s story, set in 1973, at the height of the Cold War, is expansive in scope and intricately plotted. The BBC production took nearly five hours to tell it; the new movie, directed by Tomas Alfredson ("Let the Right One In"), runs a bit more than two hours, which just isn’t enough time. (Le Carré himself, an executive producer of the film, clearly disagrees.) Inevitably, there’s been some radical compression, along with an injection of strange twists and additions. And then there’s the cast, which we’ll get to in a moment.

The story, in outline, remains the same. There’s been a coup at the Circus—the British intelligence headquarters, situated on London’s Cambridge Circus traffic roundabout. The head of the service, an aged and ailing spymaster known only as Control, has disgraced himself with a bungled operation in Czechoslovakia aimed at flushing out a Soviet mole whom he’s convinced has infiltrated the top echelon of his Circus chieftains.

Control soon dies, and his partisans are rudely dispersed, among them his loyal deputy, George Smiley, who is forced into retirement. Control is replaced by a lugubrious buffoon named Percy Alleline, who has recently acquired a hot new source of intel—a Soviet double agent code-named Merlin. Smiley, like Control, had from the beginning seen this wondrous new asset as too good to be true.

Read the full review at Reason.com

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