Many people here dislike the movie but are satisfied with the TV version and/or the book. Well, judging from the film, the spy story itself is ridiculous on so many levels. Le Carre, as a former spy should have known better.
The opening scene in Budapest that sets everything in motion, sadly, doesn't pass the laughing test. A British undercover agent is to meet a potential defector - a Hungarian general who is willing to reveal to the British ultra-important information about a Soviet mole at the very top of MI6. Why would this general use a go-between and thus increase the chances of being discovered, exposing his go-between (probably a dear and trusted friend) to a mortal danger? It's absurd.
The Budapest operation had already been betrayed, however, and the Russians know. So they are supposed to be in full control - remember, the stakes couldn't have been higher. Instead, they let a sloppy Hungarian agent mimic nervously in front of everybody and let sweat drop in front of the British spy among other revealing signs and yet the British spook omits all those. Then the stupid Hungarian agent shoots the fleeing Brit, why, when they can just surround the place and apprehend him???? Only after all this nonsense takes place, some Russian spy chief pops out of nowhere and shouts that everybody is stupid.
A young woman breast-feeds there right in the middle of it, sitting in the open, in the cold, so that she gets shot in the head by mistake - the bullet aimed at the fleeing spy takes a left and ends up inside her brains contrary to real life ballistics. How cruel can the spy world be! Really? How dumber and more contrived can this go?
Then, the captured Brit is tortured, why, when the Russians have this much better informed mole, higher, at the very top of MI6. And then the Russian master spy, named Karla (because that's how Le Carre wants to present him - a master) lets the Brit back to the UK, so that he would tell how he was tortured, how they unnecessarily blew the brains out of a young nice woman in front of him absolutely for no reason, and most importantly, the captured British agent had talked to the mole before leaving for Budapest. So if he is let back to the UK, he would immediately point at the all important mole as the potential source of the information that betrayed the entire Budapest operation. This officially makes Karla, the worst agent-runner in history, despite Le Carre's half-baked attempts to make him a master spy.
But it is not only the Russian "master" spies who are stupid. So are the British: when the mole (played by Firth) is finally caught and in custody, the British let him outside the safe house, in the open (???), nobody guarding him (???) so that everybody who wants revenge or just to shut his mouth can easily sneak in and put a bullet in his head, no sweat. Really? This is how the British will keep their uber-important detainee? The man who is supposed to give them some idea how much damage has been done, how many operations have been compromised???
And this goes on and on ..., nothing makes sense in the "spy" story.
The director is employing a series of cheap shots to impress the easily impressionable - the young breastfeeding woman, the completely unnecessary violence all along. The story is boring, as many already pointed out, incoherent from A to Z.
On a personal level, Smiley, as smart and deeply intellectual as he pretentiously is supposed to be, finds out his wife is cheating on him only by chance, simply because she is so careless that she makes out with the mole at some ridiculously set party at the MI6 headquarters. I thought he was supposed to be able to read people, if he is so good. It turns out his wife was betraying him every step of the way.
Most of the characters are 2-dimensional at best, John Hurt's Control is a caricature of a human being, who would allow a person with such unhinged behavior to be the head of British intelligence? We've heard about British eccentricity and propensity for alcohol, but how do you go up in such a hierarchy with behavior that outrageous?
The gay element also seems contrived. For obvious political correctness. Since we all heard how some of those Soviet moles in MI6 were homosexual, here comes Le Carre (or the director) to remind us that gays can also be the good gays who catch moles. And sacrifice their personal lives, for the cause. This is sophisticated world, people, make no mistake.
We don't learn anything about most of the characters and their motivation with very few exceptions, such as the British rogue agent in Istanbul, who wants to save a Russian damsel in distress just out of some basic human decency. This, give or take, is the only plausible event in the whole story.
Oldman's acting is reasonable but nothing extraordinary, although I found some elements of his performance rather pretentious than anything else. But it could only be me.
The director employs clichés that I'm sure the cinema-snobbery would fawn over. For example, the main character, Oldman/Smiley is shown several times swimming in some pond with deep, deep, dark, dirty waters. So if you are so dumb and not getting it how Smiley is swimming in the dangerous and muddy waters of international espionage, here comes the director of this movie with his mind-blowing 'symbolism', generously helping you out.
The film was tremendous disappointment for me, especially since I saw some of the ads on British TV, presenting it as something like the best spy thriller ever. What?
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