"I Know Who You Are."

Image from buffalonews.com
Who is the mole? Was Control paranoid or on to something? Who has Irina? How can I get this popcorn bit out of my teeth? Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy (2011) was a brilliantly crafted British mystery of epic proportions. But as the ticking clock of the case winds down and we all put our teletypes to sleep, the burning question remains. What is it about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy that makes it such a damn good movie? To uncover the answer, we must first sift through the clues:

CLUE #1: The return of good old fashioned spies.

Svetlana Khodchenkova.
As everyone knows, I thoroughly enjoyed both versions of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. But you've got to admit it, mysteries just aren't quite as fun as they used to be. What do I mean by that? Well...let's take a personal favorite of mine, Angel Heart (1987). The movie takes place in the 50s, a grand time when computers didn't exist and Mickey Rourke still looked pretty. He plays a detective who isn't afraid to do the leg work--he talks to people, he taps his contacts, and he goes to New Orleans and back again to solve his case. Now cut to 2011. You can google anything you want to know. Better yet, if you're a hacker like Lisbeth Salander, you can type some fancy green code into your computer and solve the case from the comfort of your own couch. The biggest obstacle she ever had to overcome in digging up information was how long it would take her to weed out the viruses Mikael uploads every time he clicks a popup that tells him he's their 100th viewer. There's just not enough privacy left in the world for there to be any sort of good mystery stories. So, sure, the movie moves a little slow, but it's quite literally a nice change of pace.

CLUE #2: The faces.

I don't think I have to tell anyone the most obvious draw of this movie--the star-studded cast. Sure, there were the big bold letter names that appeared on the posters, but it was all about the little guys too. We had hey, you, crazy old man and why the long face? kid and the other Truman Capote. Not to mention good ol' Tommy Boy and aren't you a Bond henchman yet you terrifying man? And then there were the woman, the brilliant could she be any more British? Burke and positively stunning Svetlana Russianrussianrussian. I don't know who this Svetlana chick is, but I will be the first to say I told you so when someone shoves her in a phone booth and transports her back to the 70s, because they could not have chosen a woman more perfect for the time period. The best part about each and every actor? They were all great. Every single player in this movie. Not only were they great, but they all kept in the tone of the movie. The casting was excellent, and they blending in with the scenery perfectly.

Image from clothesonfilm.com.
CLUE #3: The faceless.

As in any good spy movie, the majority of the movie was a seesaw between what the audience got to see and what the audience didn't get to see. However, they took it a step further with this one and had some characters that only existed because we were told that they existed (and occasionally saw someone grab their ass). This worked and didn't worked for me. Where it worked: I liked that Ann didn't have a face. Great. This movie is stuffed with good British homoerotic tension as it is, let's just go all the way and leave the wives out of it. Ann was a traumatic event in Smiley's life, let's leave her at that.

Where it didn't work: Polyakov. So...I understand that the major villain is the mysterious mole. But Polyakov was still...a pretty major player. Right? I mean, they repeated his name enough times throughout the script to build me up to the feeling of wanting a little something out of this man. Even if he is a sideshow to raise the stakes. But when you drag him through the movie and then throw his face in there at the end just because you can...it just throws me. I can't really figure out why he was in the movie at all. Might as well have called him Mr. Big Russian Plot Device and left it at that.

Bromance is in the air.
CLUE #4: I didn't get it.

I mean, that's really the top mark of a good British spy movie, right? If you don't get it the first time around? I swear, every time I get into one of these movies, I tell myself I'll get it. I watched every fucking detail in this movie. I was waiting for someone's head to get caught in the lift. Yet...when it came down to the whodunit, I just didn't get it. I did understand his motivations, and frankly I didn't entirely understand exactly what he did (read: what he did that the others didn't). This will all make zero sense if you haven't seen the movie, and probably if you have seen the movie. Still, despite the build up, despite everything the fact that every detail seemed extraordinarily deliberate, I was left with that "Hmm...interesting?" feeling. I trusted the writer on this one, and still he managed to pull the rug out from under my feet. Dammit. Now I'm going to have to see it again just to see if it makes any more sense the second go-around.

CLUE #5: Badasses got their due recognition.

There were four people that really made this movie for me. Tom Hardly, but he's almost an honorable mention by this point, isn't he? Not because he wasn't good--he was--but we expect him to rock on with his badass self, he can really do no wrong in anyone's eyes. Even if it means going ginger. But it was Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong who really ran away with it for me. Why? Because we know they're all very good, but it's been a long time since we've seen them all this good, and on such a grand scale. Yes, yes, Colin Firth is just winding down from an Oscar, but even in The King's Speech (2010) he was playing...Colin Firth. As we know him and love him. That charming, fumbling, adorable British man. This movie? Not so much.

All the movie snobs know Gary Oldman is a badass, but...I still get the feeling that your average American audience member hasn't quite caught on, just because they can't recognize him from one movie to the other (you old chameleon, you). Well. This movie certainly set him on the map. Lastly, Mark Strong we know and love, but only as the stone cold fox of a villain who beats up little kids. I mean, unless you've seen Revolver (2005), but who watches existential British gangster films anymore (SEE IT, BITCHES). Here, he gets a character with emotional turmoil, with deep, human issues. And...well. He does it all in style. Only he could be simultaneously trailer trash scrubbing mud off his boots and the classiest man on the screen.
Being a BAMF.
Conclusion: Mark Strong is one classy motherfucker. Gary Oldman too.



  1. Love this post! It was a good film, but incredibly dull. I thought it looked fantastic though, and yes Oldman and Strong were very good (Oldman NEEDS to be nominated for an Oscar for this). I was a bit surprised by all the homoeroticism because I didn't expect that would have been there in the novel.
    I agree with you about not understanding the whole "whodunit" part. It just happened.
    Also, I couldn't feel anything for the characters at all.
    Still, good film.

  2. Thanks! The good thing about this movie is that it didn't mask what it was. You went it knowing it was going to be a slow paced espionage, but that would be okay.

    The acting was really the main draw for me. And the visuals. The story was good, but...the actors were better. I agree completely...Oldman needs a nomination at very least.

    The homoeroticism was really the best part. Especially because it's one of those things that you kind of always snicker at in British films...they're all a little more "chummy" than most American bromances. And here...well. They finally went there! If anything, they could have amped it up, made it more obvious. Raised the stakes.

    For me, the characters were Oldman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, and...a bunch of stuffy British dudes. They were interchangeable at times, but I have a feeling that has a lot to do with the fact that it's based off a book and they were trying to cram too many character in.

  3. Have not seen this yet, but I love Oldman. He is one of my fave actors of all time. If you haven't check State of Grace with Sean Penn, fucking awesome film an done of my favorites.

    Oh and reason number 5003 why I think we were somehow joined in the nebulous ether, Angel Heart fucking ruled!!

  4. I haven't seen State of Grace, but I'll have to! I love Gary Oldman, I love Sean Penn, I'm intrigued.

    And Angel Heart was such the shit!! I really have to rewatch that. Noir...AND New Orleans...? All my favorite things in one movie? SOLD.

  5. Everything i hear and read about this movie just makes me look forward to it to more! If you haven't seen it, Romeo is Bleeding is my favorite of Oldman's work. It also features one of the greatest bamf's ever in Lena Olin's character. So fing good.

  6. I'll definitely be interested to hear what you have to say about it! And I haven't seen Romeo is Bleeding...but now that I've looked it up, I'm intruiged! I'm going to have to check it out! Especially for a BAMF chick.


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