Alternate Title: Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Soviet
One sentence synopsis: A retired british spy seeks to ferret out a mole within the British Intelligence service.
Things Havoc liked: Ah, Gary Oldman. I love Gary Oldman. He can play insane, he can play straight, he can play supremely powerful, and he can play schlub. Whatever's going on, I always love watching him, especially when he's given interesting things to do. Here, he plays George Smiley, the protagonist of John LeCarre's famous set of cold war spy thrillers, who has been involuntarily retired and then approached by the British government to look into rumors of a mole working at the "Circus", British Intelligence. The Circus here is presented much as I imagine it really was, an office building filled with dumpy, paranoid English upper crusters, played by such awesome actors as John Hurt, Colin Firth, Cirdan Hinds, Mark Strong, and the man with the most British name ever invented, Benedict Cumberbatch (no, I did not make that up). Seriously, any one of the above men I could watch doing largely anything. A cast like that cannot place a foot wrong, and therefore does not.
The movie eschews the usual James Bond tropes (not that I dislike those) in favor of the grind and misdirection of an actual spy case. There are no car chases, no duels with machine guns or swords, not even dead drops in the middle of the night while being chased by agents of the Stasi. One does not catch moles by beating them like Jack Bauer, one catches them with careful deduction and research. This research in the hands of lesser filmmakers might get boring or tired, but it does not here, and there's actually a fair bit of tension when one man is trying to pull off a complex yet subtle scheme to steal documents from a secure facility. The story is told mostly in flashback, but without losing the audience in terms of where and when we are situation, and otherwise proceeds at an even pace towards the end.
Things Havoc disliked: That said, while we never lose the setting of the film, we do lose more or less everything else.
I am not an idiot. I enjoy complex thrillers with labyrinthine turns. I have no fucking idea what actually happened in large portions of this movie. It's not that the movie obscures these things behind misdirection and twist, don't get me wrong, it's that I cannot follow the line of logic that leads our protagonist to sniff out the mole he is hunting for. Entire subplots of the film, such as everything Mark Strong does, and most of what Tom Hardy does, have, as far as I can tell, nothing whatsoever to do with anything, or if they do have something to do with anything, it's a complete mystery to me. The movie takes great pains to establish a situation where the Mole can be any one of a half-dozen men, all well-placed within the Circus. Yet how it is ultimately determined that the mole is This man rather than That man or Those ones is totally mysterious to me. Perhaps if I went back and viewed the movie several more times, I would be able to sort it all out, but the movie's pace was so slow and methodical that I frankly was not given any reason to desire to do so. But more importantly, there doesn't seem (to me at least) to be any major underlying logic to why one person is a mole and not another. Perhaps that's the point, I don't know, but it left me feeling like the movie had arbitrarily chosen somebody to be the bad guy.
Final thoughts: The book this movie was made from is much longer than the film, as was the original british miniseries made about it. Perhaps those elements are in play here, as the movie seems like it forgot to actually include the important information of how we got from A to B. Still, I can't call this a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. It's shot well (if dumpily, but that's the point, I suppose), acted very well, and does hold together for a coherent viewing. There's nothing particularly wrong with this movie, certainly, but it didn't really leave me with a good sense of what had just transpired.
Final Score: 7/10