Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

2011. Dir: Tomas Alfredson. Starring: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy and John Hurt. ●●●●●

It's a rare thing for cinema to transport the audience into another time and place for the duration of an entire movie. Sure a costume, flick of cigarette or particular line reading has the power of evoking a period but for the feeling to last for two hours is a special achievement. It is immensely gratifying that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy completely immerses you in cold war paranoia of the early 70's, not just through garish wallpaper and and donkey jackets, but through structure and storytelling. Emulating the pacing of early Coppola or Friedkin this thrilling non-thriller may become one of the most essential additions to the spy genre.

"There is a mole, right at the top of the circus." So say bitter old-school Control (John Hurt - musky and paranoid) and brutish bag-man Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) his stoicism losing to a desperate bid to get out of the game, even officious civil servant Simon McBurney is beginning to believe it. So much so that 'retired' agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is called back to the circus - be prepared for a lexicon of MI6 shorthand - to uncover the mole, to hunt down the source of the rumours and, if necessary, identify and bring to account whichever of the most senior spooks has turned traitor. The prime suspects, who've been allocated codenames from the popular children's rhyme, are Tinker (Toby Jones), Tailer (Colin Firth), Soldier (Ciaran Hinds) and - missing a couple of possibilities - poor man (David Dencik) with Smiley himself as a unlikely fifth candidate.

To say anymore would spoil the tension bubbling through the actual plot, with bluff and double bluff Smiley uses a determined mixture of flat foot detection and psychoanalysing body language to fit together the conflicting evidence. Don't go in trying to figure out the culprit, the same subterfuge that obscures the truth from Smiley will stand in your way but instead concentrate of the subtleties of the filmmaking, of the minor gestures. It is in these undefinable moments, tactical conversations, moving folders in libraries, shared glances at parties, that the masterpiece shows itself.

Film fans used to the high-octane car chases and hand to hand combat of the Bond and Bourne spy franchises will be unused the to unflashy world of real espionage, a world that novelist John le Carre knows well from his own days in the service, but it's the down-at-heel workaday nature of the job that gets the blood pumping when necessary. Brief bursts of gory violence occur off-screen, petulance is the only cause to raise voices, the characters within pine for the glory days of the Second World War when the battle lines were clearer, cleaner, not hidden in murky shadows.

Oldman gives the performance of his lifetime, disappearing under thick rimmed specs and owlish complexion his tendency to steal the scenes is leashed as swoops on the outskirts of the screen, gently allowing the other actors show their worth, giving the characters the freedom to display their tells. The entire supporting cast is first rate too, with special mention going to Kathy Burke as former surveillance expert with a suspicious mind and Benedict Cumberbatch as Smiley assistant, spying on his own and underlying the themes of sacrifice and misplaced loyalty that seep through the production.

The design of the movie is grubby and drab, reflecting the austerity of the low-growth pre-EEC Britain and the inherent murkiness of the cold-war. Every surface is covered in a sheen of cigarette tar and once bright wallpaper and carpets look limp and ageing in the backgrounds of unkempt flats and liberal boarding houses.

In spite of this the movie belongs to director Tomas Alfredson, coming hot off childhood vampire fable Let the Right One In, he proves here his steady eye and tension building pacing are the real deal. He's gambled with a high-profile remake exploring themes the original wouldn't have dared to consider and taken this complex and dense plot yet made it so delicious to follow we accept and understand every facet of the story.

There is no question that I recommend this movie to any filmgoer. A superb piece of work that deserves your patronage.


Jose said...

Wow. Sounds impressive. Honestly the whole thing seemed quite dull to me but I'm extremely curious now. Love how you describe the mood of it.

TomS said...

I was indifferent to this, until I read your interesting review. I will have to check it out now, and join in the conversation!

Runs Like A Gay said...

It will have it's detractors, but I can honestly say this movie excited and moved me as much as any other this year and barring unlikely upsets is a shoo-in for my top five at the end of the year.

A must-see movie about blokes in suits smoking and talking in posh accents.

Alex in Movieland said...

happy you like it.

can't wait to see it, probably in the winter during awards season.

Runs Like A Gay said...

See it as soon as you can. I cannot overstate the perfection of this movie.