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Customer Review

219 of 238 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun at the Circus - But Not An Action Movie...., December 28, 2011
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This review is from: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (DVD)
Probably like a lot of modern viewers, I had heard of but not read this book, nor seen the BBC TV series - Both were issued in the 1970's.

I did though read a few summaries, knew that it was loosely based on the hunt for British turncoat spy Kim Philby, and went into the movie understanding that it requires very careful attention to keep up with the involved plot. Seeing it cold, I still thought it was great, with terific performances by many decorated actors throughout the movie, and Gary Oldman is fantastic in the lead. In some ways, if like me you see it without knowing the story first, his character is done in a way that helps take you into the story, as he barely says anything in the first 15 or 20 minutes of the movie and just seems to be watching what all is going on. By the end, he has transformed into a strong character that has figured out the whole scheme.

While I loved the movie, even without having read the book to know the full story, it felt like the plot was overly compressed to fit within 2 hours. I watched it intently, but there were still a couple of developments in the plot, as done in the movie, that seemed like huge leaps. Hopefully there will someday be a director's cut that fleshes the movie out a little better.

One viewing tip, courtesy of the Seattle Times movie reviewer - the many flashbacks can sometimes be confusing, but one way to help keep them straight is the glasses worn by Gary Oldman. He buys a new pair at the start of the movie, so the flashbacks show him with his old glasses - for the current events, he is wearing the new ones.


With the release of the movie on dvd and cable, many reviewers have now complained that the show is slow and boring. This is definitely not an action movie. If you're looking for the latest James Bond type flick, this movie is not for you.

On the other hand, director Tomas Alfredson (and John Le Carre in the book) probably assumed that the viewer would understand that this is a story of the very highest stakes - As mentioned above, it is widely acknowledged to be a fictionalized account of the hunt for British turncoat spy Kim Philby. Philby and his fellow Cambridge spies turned over vast amounts of classified British and US atomic and military information to the Soviets during the height of the Cold War. Philby also later admitted providing the Soviets with the names of hundreds of Western agents during his long years as a Communist mole, and many of those betrayed were captured and tortured or killed by the KGB. Le Carre could rightfully assume his readers in the Cold War era recognized the stakes involved without expressly stating such. Alfredson apparently assumed the same for the movie, as nothing was added to the script to make this clear for modern viewers. Personally, I think that was a reasonable approach, as it is apparent that the mole is at the highest level of British security, but it is clear from all of the reviews here that find the movie boring, many viewers feel otherwise.

By the way, while the British eventually confirmed he was a Communist spy, Philby actually escaped to the Soviet Union before he could be prosecuted and was later honored on a Russian postage stamp....
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 13, 2012 1:34:20 AM PST
Jane says:
Thanks for the tip about the glasses. I haven't seen the movie yet but plan to watch it when it comes out on DVD. I watched to BBC mini-series a few months ago so maybe that will help me follow the story.

Good review!

Posted on Jan 28, 2012 12:32:20 PM PST
"it felt like the plot was overly compressed to fit within 2 hours"

Yes, that would be my chief complaint as well. Otherwise, I liked it a lot.

Posted on Jun 10, 2012 8:41:56 AM PDT
Good review - and I like the postscript. While I too found the movie to be a bit overly compressed (I do feel as though Alfredson could have allowed one or two short more scenes to allow the characters and complex machinations to breath), I admired the movie's refusal to spoon feed the audience its plot. I've been a bit dismayed by some of the the audience reaction - chiefly, the vitriolic one-starrers who seem to have trashed the movie simply because it didn't have more shootouts or because it didn't spell absolutely everything out.
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Location: Issaquah, Washington United States

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