(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)
Why I added it to my queue: Because this was one of the major pieces of Oscar bait this last awards season, a movie which brought a fresh new perspective to veteran actor Gary Oldman's career; and because it's based on a classic '70s spy novel by John Le Carre, which would give me a good chance to get caught up with the story without having to slog through the actual book. (I'm not a big fan of spy thrillers.)
The reality: Pretty interesting! Although I do have a bit of a complaint about it, although I'm not sure if I should technically even call it a complaint, since ultimately I appreciate the filmmakers making the effort in the first place; that in their determination to really streamline the book specifically for subtle, smart effect, I had a hard time many times simply figuring out what was going on, especially when adding the one-year-ago flashbacks regularly mixed in with no warning nor transition, great from a stylistic standpoint but confusing from a narrative one. Plus of course this shares the same problem as all those crime-solving shows on basic cable too, which is that the most famous actor among the group of suspects almost always turns out to be the criminal, because why otherwise spend all that money for that famous actor?; and so that ruined some of the surprise I should've experienced as someone not already familiar with the story.
But all that said, I have to say that I was really pleasantly surprised to learn what the theme of this story is about -- basically an examination of the very last days of collapse of the old British Empire, which in a mere 75 years went from the strongest global confederacy since the Romans to a pathetic shadow of its former glory, with a bungling, corrupt intelligence agency serving as a fine metaphor for Britain's overall downfall as a world power by those years, a mole-riddled unending bureaucracy reduced to outright begging for help from their powerful American cousins, and so inept that they are fooled and played by their Soviet counterparts on a regular basis. Granted, this fits right in with the dour, morally relative countercultural times in which the original book was written; but given the rah-rah reverence that so many British males have for this book, it was a surprise to find out that it's such a dark, cynical tale, versus the nationalist boosterism of James Bond in the '60s or Tom Clancy in the '80s. A slick, technically perfect adaptation that gets all these points across just fine, it comes strongly recommended.
Strangest piece of trivia: Gary Oldman went to a hipster old-glasses store in southern California, and tried on hundreds of pairs, to find the funky '70s glasses he wears in this movie.
Worth your time? Yes