Watched Apr 22, 2012
Sometimes it's hard to understand why you love a film when others do not; with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it's not difficult at all. I'd like to pretend that I would have completely understood the plot had I not read the book first, but I'm not sure that's true. I read The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and TTSS a few years ago, and was a little lost with both. Based on that experience, I thought that the writing was excellent and distilled the best parts of the book down to the most essential elements, but I know that there was plenty of room for confusion.
With that said, while I didn't love the book, it did give me a good basis of understanding for the movie. And I LOVED the movie. I found it to be a supremely enjoyable experience, and I really appreciated the subtlety. I suspect that if you did not like the movie, you might enjoy it the second time around, if you're willing to give it another chance.
Ultimately for me, this film is primarily atmosphere, the plot is not so important. All elements of the film, narrative included, serve to underline the nature of spying - obscuring truth, not knowing, attributing meaning to memories, understanding motivations. Atmosphere is created not just through the mise-en-scene, although that is the most often noted, but also through editing and through the use of The Look as a motif. While watching TTSS, I actually took note of the editing, which is not something I can honestly say I do most of the time. For a slow-paced film, the editing created tension and perfect pacing. The looks from the characters in the Circus also create a stifling and suspicion-filled atmosphere. As Smiley considers the suspects, he remembers them as they look at him. As Smiley or Guillam walk through the Circus, the background characters also turn to look. While these looks seem to affect Guillam, Smiley's glasses serve almost to reflect the looks. His eyes are obscured.
Gary Oldman is, of course, excellent. For a story that is basically about him thinking and assessing, Oldman keeps you (or at least he kept me) interested. Mark Strong also really stood out to me, playing a character against type. I thought he really captured the quiet of Jim Prideaux in a way I had not expected. Toby Jones as Percy Alleline is also perfect.
TTSS has the best ending of any film I have seen in ages. From the moment that that perfect song starts, I had the biggest smile on my face. Absolutely wonderful.
Also of note, Tom Hardy still looks fly, even with that godawful hair. I'd totally trade state secrets to kick it with him.