17 September 2011

Movie Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
2011, 127mins, 15
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writer (s): Peter Straughan, Bridget O’Connor, John le Carré (novel)
Cast includes: Gary Oldman, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy
UK Release Date: 16th September 2011

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” oozes class from every frame, but that’s hardly surprising when you consider the personnel behind it. The director is Tomas Alfredson, who was last seen helming the universally acclaimed vampire chiller “Let the Right One In”. It’s based on a novel by John le Carré. The cast features some of the finest actors currently inhabiting the British film industry, including Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Strong. So yeah, the pedigree on this one is high. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is a satisfying and hugely intelligent movie, perhaps a little overstuffed with subplots and vital narrative details, but audiences with a decent concentration span and a desire to be impressed will feel rewarded by the time it concludes.

With the Cold War raging, the upper echelons of MI6 have become convinced that a mole is lurking amongst their ranks. George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is quietly recruited to try and ascertain the identity of the double agent, returning to the world of espionage for the first time since his dismissal several years prior. Using his right-hand man Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) as a link to the Secret Service, Smiley begins to examine all the possibilities, quickly realizing that the traitor is one of five men, all of whom are highly regarded officials within MI6. Using various contacts and his own impressive methods of deduction, Smiley and Peter scramble to uncover the Russian contact before it’s too late.

Gary Oldman is terrific in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, delivering a nuanced and phenomenally thoughtful turn as George Smiley. Oldman, a performer regularly in favour of cartoonish excess, dials it down to zero here, providing a quiet yet powerful dosage of high calibre acting. Smiley is the critical character within le Carré’s labyrinth of espionage, Oldman evoking both a steely professionalism and an unsettled emotional core with only the most minimal of acting tics. It’s a strong piece of work, fully rounded and complex, without ever slipping into the realms of nothingness. The supporting cast also happen to be excellent, albeit several of them have to contend with considerably less interesting roles. As some of Smiley’s suspects, Firth and Strong are impeccable, the former concocting a particularly enjoyable yet oddly silent relationship with Smiley, the two men jousting over romance and affairs of the heart. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is actually a relatively cold picture, fixated on the intricacies of its clever plot rather than the discontentment of its characters. For that reason the Firth/Oldman dynamic becomes invaluable, as does an arc involving a supposed deserter portrayed by the ever watchable Tom Hardy. These decidedly more humanized components provide critical relief from Alfredson’s otherwise meticulously focused yet emotionally hollow interpretation of this tale. Thankfully the director has assembled a cast good enough to make mountains out of what little character development gets thrown their way.

The screenplay by Peter Straughan (“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”) and Bridget O’Connor ( Straughan’s recently deceased writing partner) condenses the story effectively, although audiences should be warned a lot goes on within its 127 minutes. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is a slow moving beast, filled with subtle twists and fringe players, meaning that switching your brain off before viewing isn’t an option. It’s a complex and serious slice of intrigue, and perhaps in sections somewhat overcooked. Audiences should be thankful that “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” treats them with respect and delivers a generally gripping spy story, but there’s no denying it can be difficult to keep pace with all the film’s clever little flourishes. In that respect it’s oddly reminiscent of last year’s “Inception”, another crowd-pleasing effort which blessed its viewership with so much, but at times possibly seemed too smart for its own good. I feel like an idiot for criticizing a movie for being clever (lord knows more Hollywood product needs to be), but within the 127 minute timeframe some of the feature’s cunning feels a little trapped. The script remains a treat, but “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” might have been slicker had it evened out its load over a beefier runtime.

The cinematography and musical score are both of the utmost quality, Alfredson going to great lengths in order to secure a believable sense of place and gloomy paranoia. Much like with “Let the Right One In” the filmmaker displays a commendable range of creatively structured shots, helping to distance “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” from more formulaic entries within its genre. There’s a nicely framed segment that encompasses a range of rooms in an apartment, whilst the central room in MI6 headquarters is basked in a surreal and distinctive golden glow. Alfredson also opts for many close-up shots, helping to eke out every contour on his talented casts’ faces to maximize their already startling performances.

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is a lengthy and tiring sit, but it does offer an absorbing way to spend two hours. When measured against “Let the Right One In” (and I’m the first to admit that’s a crude comparison) it probably falls just short. However when more directly assessed against its current multiplex competition the film is a safe bet, Alfredson and his talented cast having assembled a compelling and substantive cinematic buffet.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011


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