Dec 22, 2011

Tinker Tailor Tomboy: Two Short Takes

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

My Grade: B-

Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was one of my most anticipated (and dreaded) films of the year. I’m a big fan of the John le CarrĂ© novel but I’d always wondered whether it would be possible to transfer the density of its narrative to the big screen. Though this film is by no means a failure, for the most part it left me cold. Some might believe that the original text was condensed by the screenwriters but I’d say “diluted” better describes this adaptation.

The film takes George Smiley and company from point A to B to C and so on mechanically without really developing their characters enough for us to make any connection. The bigger problem is that there is no sense of significance to the main storyline, making it really difficult to care much about where these characters end up and what consequences their actions bring.

That said, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a showcase for strong performances all around. Gray Oldman’s nuanced and understated work as Smiley is one of the year’s best performances. He blends in with the chilly atmosphere of the film but leaves a distinguished mark of genuine emotion at the right moments. If you’re wondering why none of the actors have managed to enter the awards conversation, it is because of the embarrassment of riches in the ensemble. Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy all give performances that equal their greatest work. The below the line elements of the film, particularly the costume and production design works, are equally top notch and meticulous in their reimagining of the early 1970s.

Ultimately, Alfredson’s adaptation, however expertly executed it is, feels more pragmatic and less engaging than the book it’s based on but it’s nevertheless a worthy and measured cinematic experience.


My Grade: A-

One of the biggest surprises of the year is this small French film about a ten-year old girl (Laure, played by Zoe Heran) who disguises herself as a boy in her new neighbourhood. It’s a surprise because despite winning an award at the Berlin Film Festival back in February, Tomboy slipped under the radar and was released with very little publicity. For shame! Celine Sciamma’s loosely structured study of a child’s identity confusion is an exquisite, complex and extremely specific film. Sciamma’s show-don’t-tell approach pays off handsomely as the kids, particularly the two sisters at the centre, take us to moments in childhood we’ve all experienced: the friendships, the games, the fights, the unjustified rivalries and premature romances. One of the strongest elements of Sciamma’s work is that she doesn’t treat the titular character as an outsider but gives Heran room to convey her uneasiness through her expressive performance. The other kids are not portrayed as villains out to bully Laure, but as children with problems of different magnitudes in their own worlds. This, combined with the golden-hued summer setting of the French country-side gives the film an intimate feel that is at once touching and funny.

Tomboy is one of those rare films about children that enters their world without looking at them through the eyes of an adult. For the short duration of this film, the audience becomes one with the kids and lives alongside them. That Sciamma manages to tell such a thought-provoking story with this youthful spirit is a miracle.


  1. Nice post Amir. I've been looking forward to seeing Tomboy, Sciamma's previous film Water Lilies was excellent. Hopefully I can find it soon.

  2. mmm Tom Hardy...

  3. Fact: Michael Fassbender was supposed to play Ricky Tarr but backed out. Tom Hardy took his place. One fact leading to another means that both actors can't be in the same movie or there won't be any straight men left.