The spy genre has a couple of acknowledged masters when it comes to the novel form. Ian Fleming is sort of the godfather of this group for his James Bond novels, giving the world a character that has gone through books and, of course, films. Tom Clancy was one of those that excelled at telling stories of spies and espionage, all tinged with so much technical detail they reportedly became required reading for government officials. Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne character was less concerned with being a spy so much as applying his training to find out who he was, providing an interesting twist on the genre as he applied his skills to get to the bottom of that mystery.
Another great of the spy novel form is John le Carre and one of his books has been turned in to this week’s new release Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Set in the early 1970s and therefore in the midst of the Cold War, the story revolves around George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a retired British Intelligence agent who is asked to investigate the possible existence of a mole within operations in Hungary. He therefore has to navigate all the dangers inherent during that period and find out how things fell apart and who has been leaking information to the Soviets.
The first poster for the movie showed Oldman’s character in profile, the image made up of a variety of words that, we can assume, describe that character along with random number strings that the audience can think of as codes or something. It clearly identifies the film as being a thinking-person’s thriller type of story and one that’s probably going to be heavy on the talking and such as opposed to containing lots of things that blow up.
The second poster took the same basic concept – Oldman’s face is made up of all sorts of numeric codes, with the copy “The enemy is within” and the general release window of “Winter” mixed in – but this time turns his face toward the camera. The full cast list is toward the bottom as is the assurance, seen also in the trailer, that the movie is based on the book that “redefined the spy thriller,” something that may be true but also makes it clear that the studio isn’t aiming for anyone under 40 here since only people in that age group were reading novels when cold war spy thrillers were still in vogue.
The trailer for the film is probably a lot more exciting than the film itself. We are introduced to the Cold War setting and that the story will be focused on rooting out a spy that is suspected to be at the top of British Intelligence. Oldman’s character is lured out of retirement to root him out. From there on out it’s mostly a lot of spy play, including the fact that Hardy’s character seems to have the mother of all secrets. People trade envelopes and walk purposefully around corners and all that and it all adds up to a pretty compelling trailer.
As I said, my suspicion is that there’s more immediate drama in the trailer than the movie itself. The swelling music here builds and builds as out-of-sequence scenes are shown, which is probably a bit different from the movie itself, which likely is more deliberately paced. That’s not to say it’s misselling the film, just that things are being highlighted here in a way to make it seem appealing to the masses when it’s not quite that pulse-pounding.
The movie’s official website has plenty of good information, but that’s to be expected from Focus Features.
The first section of content is “Story” and is where you’ll find a lengthy synopsis of the plot and explanation of the characters that inhabit that story. “Cast & Crew” then has pretty detailed and well-written information on the folks involved in making the movie.
“Videos” has the Trailer, a TV Spot, a couple of featurettes, including a video overview of le Carré and a handful of extended clips from the movie. There’s also a video from the NYC premiere event. There are 17 stills in the “Photos” section.
“In Depth” has feature-length stories about the making of the film, the spy genre and other subjects. A lot of recent stories that have appeared in the press are rounded-up in “News” and the “Reviews” has long excerpts from reviews that have appeared already about the film.
There’s an interesting site that’s been setup called TTSSMovie.com that serves as a sort of single point of aggregation for social conversations. So there are feeds coming in from Twitter, Facebook and blogs that are talking about the movie. It’s quite cool, though it didn’t really need to be its own site.
Speaking of social, the movie’s Facebook page and the studio’s Twitter feed are both full of updates about the movie’s publicity and marketing activity, with Facebook also hosting photos and video.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
I saw quite a bit of TV advertising done. Most of the spots played in a similar fashion to the trailer, placing the emphasis on Oldman while also highlighting the rest of the cast. As with the trailers there’s a bit of a focus on what I’m guessing are just the few explosions, chase sequences or other bits of action drama that the film contains despite the fact that, again, I’m guessing it’s mostly lots of standing around and looking grimly at people and documents. But you do what you have to do to get people in theaters. I’m just saying the focus would be different if this were a PBS production.
Media and Publicity
The movie had its official coming out at the 2011 Venice International Film Festival, where it was pegged by some (Los Angeles Times, 9/6/11) as the movie to beat because of the pedigree of the talent involved as well as the fact that the release pattern seemed to emphasize European audiences before the U.S., something made more clear by the fact that it wasn’t also nearly simultaneously appearing at domestic film festivals.
There’s obviously, as I pointed out a couple times, an effort to make this appear as action-packed as possible in order to try and attract people with the promise of an adventure-filled time out at the movies. But that’s contradicted by the fact that certain elements of the campaign – I’m thinking here of the posters and the publicity efforts specifically – make it clear that this is a movie best enjoyed while actually thinking about it.
Also highlighted is, of course, Oldman, who appears to turn in a great performance in the lead role. The spotlight is mostly on him throughout the campaign though there’s plenty of focus also put on the supporting cast, which includes quite a few recognizable and popular actors. But the success of the movie will likely hinge on whether or not people decide to go see a bleak, thoughtful film during the bleak late autumn season.