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How do you top 1979’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the highly regarded BBC miniseries that wasted not one of its 290 minutes? Tomas Alfredson, the Swedish director behind the cutesy/creepy cult vampire flick Let the Right One In, was handed the unenviable job of condensing this sprawling espionage story, based on John le Carré’s 1974 novel, to a paltry two hours. But if you haven’t read the book or seen the TV series, maybe don’t bother with this adaptation. The story: George Smiley, a rumpled former spymaster, is quietly tasked by Her Majesty’s Government with uncovering a double agent atop the U.K.’s intelligence service, known here as The Circus. The problem: Like a YouTube edit made for impatient viewers, Alfredson’s film elapses at crack-cocaine speeds, which means if you miss even a couple of shots, you’ll find yourself miles behind the plot. At least Alfredson gets points for style, dropping a tense and gloomy—let’s just say David Fincher-esque—veil over the fatless proceedings. And there are actorly pleasures, too: Witness some of Britain’s finest (Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Toby Jones) doing their thing grimly. But tonally, something is off, and it’s not just Julio Iglesias’ disco rendition of “La Mer” that discordantly soundtracks the film’s dénouement. Le Carré concerned himself with the bureaucratic particulars of spycraft, and in the BBC’s stately depiction, Smiley’s slow, deductive methods generate epic heft, as well as a certain mournfulness for the soul-deadening cost of cold war. In contrast, Alfredson’s high-speed version makes a deliberate story chaotic. He should have bargained for an extra hour.
The film shows all week at E Street Cinema and Bethesda Row.