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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Shane Steinberg | Wednesday, January 18, 2012

There is no doubt Tomas Alfredson’s follow-up to his 2008 hit “Let the Right One In,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” is meticulous — a thinking man’s film. It’s brimming with moments that play out like still images, the characters so full of suspicion and distrust of one another that Alfredson beckons his audience to trust no one.

What might seem immersive and intriguing — a director urging his audience to stare into the whites of his actors’ eyes as the only way of telling truth from lies — is in fact as entertaining as watching people breathe for two hours.

This cat-and-mouse chase where there is no clear-cut cat or mouse features an all-star cast including Gary Oldman, Tom Hurt and last year’s Best Actor winner, Colin Firth. The film retraces the Cold War from the eyes of George Smiley (Oldman), a retired espionage veteran who is called out of retirement to find a potential Soviet mole in the upper echelon of the British intelligence.

Oldman gives a praise-worthy performance and he and a few others (surprisingly, not including Firth) manage to carry the film on their backs for the majority of its seemingly overlong run time. However, “Tinker Tailor” proves too dry, too slow and maybe a casualty of a director trying to craft too meticulous of a spy thriller.

It may be that it takes about an hour to actually identify who is who in this film, or maybe that everyone, including Smiley, is brought into question at one point or another but it’s fairly obvious who the mole is the entire time. Either way, “Tinker Tailor” is one of those rare films that manages to move at a snail’s pace, all the while leaving the audience both in its dust and looking back forced to wait impatiently because we’re both confused about who the last conversation was about yet way ahead of the slow-moving mystery.

As far as that slow-moving mystery is concerned — the case of who-done-it — Alfredson directs more like a magician with an average trick but a terrible prestige rather than the seasoned veteran he is. When the identity of the mole is finally revealed there are no gasps or feelings of even remote surprise. No, there’s not even a semblance of a build-up. It’s almost one fluid motion that undermines everything else that comes before it as if to say, “Oh, by the way, here is that mole that we’ve spent the last hour and a half chasing.”

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” might be worth your while if painstakingly slow movies are your cup of tea. For everyone else, maybe this movie might be easier with a cup of tea in hand. Just don’t make it chamomile. This 120-minute whodunit is already enough of a snore.