A Movie Like A Poem

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – The Movie

The missus and I decided to forgo the gloom of a too-warm January Saturday and spend it munching nachos at the movies – in this case, a cinematic interpretation of this,  John le Carré's 'seventies spy novel of the same name. 


image via movies.about.com

The story in a nutshell is this: George Smiley, one of Britain's MI-6 operatives, has been booted from the service, but through a bureaucratic back door has been offered a chance to flush out a Soviet mole at the highest level of MI-6. To give more detail would be irrelevant (see below).

Le Carré's approach to such a problem has since become formulaic in movies and TV series in which a sinister political miscreant has to be ferreted. Too, there are many side plots in the novel that are all but flown by in the movie – this, of course, is the way of novels adapted to the cinema – the screenplay writer has to define the novel's trunk, its main branches, and all but forget about the twigs and leaves. 

With this in mind, does the movie work? Yes and no. The missus became rather antsy about halfway through, and, really, so did I. I'd read the book many years ago, and all the passing references came slowly to life for me as they passed by, but as they did, I wanted more detail. The missus, however, found the movie hard to follow, not her cup of tea in the first place (We'll have to see something arty or romantic next time). 

The movie is a period piece, rather dated in its post-WWII escalation between the U.S. and G.B. vs. the U.S.S.R. I think the movie makers realized that (most) moviegoers would know the result of that conflict at this point, so why bog down in the details of a conflict long since over?

If there's a way to look at the movie in a benevolent light, it's this: Tinker, Tailor, Solier, Spy should not be watched, with an eye for details, i.e., with a rational mind. Instead, think of it as a poem in which much is subterranean. Let it, as the cliche goes, wash over you; enjoy the feel of the intrigue, of the danger. Sense Smiley's slowly fructifying dissection of the problem at hand, the methodical elimination of possibilities. In the end, Smiley had a "feeling" that so and so was the mole, his job to move feeling to something concrete. Join him in that feeling, and you'll enjoy a masterfully made novel adaptation.


One thought on “A Movie Like A Poem

  1. Also saw the movie with the wife this weekend. Excellent summary comparing the movie to the book. For those who haven’t read the book, the movie is a great teaser, appetizer. The book is a full meal.

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