Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
If you asked your average fan to draft out his dream lineup for the ultimate action-movie cast -- an action movie superband, as it were -- it probably wouldn’t look all that different from the team Sylvester Stallone was able to assemble for The Expendables. That has me wondering, though: What should a sci-fi blockbuster equivalent of The Expendables look like? Who would be the person to get a sci-fi superband off the ground? Most importantly, who all should star in it? And, keeping with the theme of The Expendables, what would their equivalent role be?
Notes: 1) This is strictly for a sci-fi blockbuster, not what I think would actually make the ultimate science fiction movie. 2) No one in The Expendables is eligible (sorry, Bruce and Arnold). 3) I’ve kept the casting pool limited to people with mainly movie careers; TV opens that playing field too wide. 4) I have no idea what this hypothetical movie would be about -- this is just who I’d like to see get together under one blockbuster roof.
'Expendables' Doppelganger: Jet Li
Keanu Reeves is a no-brainer for this list, considering the man’s career of late has been defined exclusively by big-budget sci-fi blockbusters, but designating his Expendables counterpart is a little tougher. On the one hand, he is a big enough fan of the genre to warrant being the Stallone-equivalent champion of the genre, but I don’t think he’s outspoken enough to take up that much of the spotlight. Jet Li, though, is a little light on the dialogue, but he’s always there, eager to jump into the fray. Both are also very well known for how much they respect their stunt teams, so it’s a perfect match.
Sci-Fi Credits: The Matrix, The Day the Earth Stood Still, A Scanner Darkly
'Expendables' Doppelganger: Sylvester Stallone
Choosing who would possibly both be passionate enough about sci-fi blockbusters to really assemble a superband of genre staples and have enough clout to actually attract the other players was the hardest part of making this list. But if anyone could get it together it’s Will Smith. He’s been in more sci-fi smashes than anyone else on this list, he has admitted to loving the genre in interviews, and there probably isn’t a project in Hollywood that he couldn’t get off the ground.
Sci-Fi Credits: Independence Day, Men in Black, I Am Legend
'Expendables' Doppelganger: Jason Statham
Vin Diesel really hasn’t been in that many sci-fi movies (the two Riddick entries, Babylon A.D. and The Iron Giant are it), but he identifies so strongly with the few films that he has been in that he could easily be considered a welcome face. Plus, he’s just a huge geek in his personal life; he’s been a long time D&D player and he founded his own video-game company. He’s also got "rogue tough guy who eventually has to protect his lady friend" written all over him, which is basically the only role Statham ever plays.
Sci-Fi Credits: Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick, Babylon A.D., The Iron Giant
Casper Van Dien
'Expendables' Equivalent: Dolph Lundgren
There’s a reason that both Dolph Lundgren and Casper Van Dien didn’t have bigger careers in Hollywood: The public just could not take them seriously. Lundgren has actually become a much better actor in recent years, but he and Van Dien both started off strong and then wound down to become low-budget, straight-to-video regulars. That surefire disenchantment with the Hollywood system makes them perfect for the wild-card, crazy member of the team.
Sci-Fi Credits: Starship Troopers
'Expendables' Equivalent: Mickey Rourke
It pains me to say that Sigourney Weaver should be kept on the sidelines the same way Mickey Rourke is, but I think the idea of her as the grizzled vet who has gotten too old for this shit is a pretty amusing one. She’s also got the wit and the presence to be able to realistically bust the balls of everyone else around her.
Sci-Fi Credits: Alien, Avatar, Ghostbusters, Wall-E, Galaxy Quest
'Expendables' Equivalent: Eric Roberts
Someone has to play the bad guy, and seeing as Harrison Ford has rarely plays outside his hero range, for once I’d just like to see him play a crazy dude with absolutely no regard for human life. Maybe a good old-fashion sci-fi blockbuster is just what he needs to actually look enthusiastic on the big screen again (let’s not count Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls; let’s never, ever count it).
Sci-Fi Credits: Star Wars, Blade Runner
'Expendables' Equivalent: Randy Couture
Michael Ironside is such an obvious choice for both the Mickey Rourke and Eric Red roles that I want to see neither. I’d just like to see him break his current mold and play a foot soldier. Not the main hero or bad guy, not the one teaching a lesson, just another tool at the disposal of the core heroes.
Sci-Fi Credits: Starship Troopers, Total Recall, Watchers, Highlander II
'Expendables' Equivalent: Bruce Willis
I would absolutely love to see Lance Henriksen kick some ass even in his old age, but these days he’s better suited for playing Willis’ role of the guy who hires everyone else. He’s got the presence of a seasoned pro and can make every line of dialogue stick like a barb when he wants to.
Sci-Fi Credits: Aliens, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Terminator
'Expendables' Equivalent: Gary Daniels
The casting of Jeff Goldblum in pretty much anything these days cracks me up, so it only makes sense that he should play the henchman who talks a bunch of trash the entire time but who you know just can’t back up anything he's saying. Plus, Goldblum just hasn’t really been a part of a high-concept sci-fi movie for a while, so he’d be a sight for sore eyes.
Sci-Fi Credits: The Fly, Independence Day, Powder
'Expendables' Equivalent: Steve Austin
Physically, Milla Jovovich couldn’t be further from Steve Austin, but I still think she would make a perfectly foreboding henchwoman. She doesn’t have to say much -- you can tell just by looking at her that she’s capable of all kinds of asskickery. And as the clear obstacle between the heroes and the big bad boss, that means she’d eventually have to fight their leader. Plus, I would just love to see a Will Smith vs. Milla Jovovich rumble. That would be too weird to pass up.
Sci-Fi Credits: The Fifth Element, Resident Evil, The Fourth Kind