sDirected by Tomas Alfredson. Starring Mark Strong, David Dencik, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Kathy Burke, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Gary Oldman. 127 mins, Cert 15.
There was a lot of expectation resting on the shoulders of Swede Tomas Alfredson when this film was announced. Based not only on one of the most critically acclaimed espionage novels of all time but also an already iconic 1979 BBC serialisation, it was a brave undertaking. Set in Cold War-era 1973, the story revolves around the presence of a Soviet mole at the heart of the Circus, codename in John Le Carré’s books for the British secret intelligence service. Agent Jim Prideaux’s (Mark Strong) mission in Budapest has gone horribly wrong, now as a result, the head of the Circus, John Hurt’s Control has been pushed out as has loyal agent Smiley (Gary Oldman). But when the government gets wind of the possibility that a Soviet agent has infiltrated the secret service, Smiley is recalled to root out the mole. Is it “Tinker” (Toby Jones), “Tailor” (Colin Firth), “Soldier” (Ciaran Hinds) or “Poor man” (David Dencik)?
This stylish spy thriller does not fit in with its spy genre contemporaries. It does not have the violent hand-to-hand combat or the chase scenes of its progressively superficial counterparts. It may lose some of its audience with its deliberately slow pace and chess match style of investigation. But that would be a shame because this is an incredible achievement in filmmaking from top to bottom. The starting point was the screenplay by Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor which for the most part stays true, leaving Le Carré’s themes of class, corruption and moral uncertainty intelligently intact. There are a number of incredible performances from the predominantly British cast, but Oldman stands out with an Oscar worthy turn as Smiley. Smiley is a reserved character that chooses his words carefully. What I really enjoyed is how the characters’ emotions are shown under the surface rather than hard hitting, which I think is more effective. It is amazing how through Oldman’s incredibly expressive performance, we are able to understand exactly what Smiley is thinking just by his changing of posture or adjustment of his glasses. Alfredson is the most crucial component for this film. He seems to really understand the characters and has an eye for every small, telling detail. He frames every shot with precision, overhearing conversations in darkened hallways or through walls as if we are the spies, gathering evidence about the character’s wrong doings. If evidence of his class was not seen after Let the Right One In (2008) it certainly is now. Even though the actors and director usually get the most credit, like I said this is great filmmaking from top to bottom. The film would not have the same impact if not for the grainy, sepia-tinged finish applied by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema to create 1970’s London or the subtle touch of the score composed by Alberto Iglesias.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a classic whodunit thriller with a choking air of suspense that keeps the audience guessing until the stunning final frame. Lose yourself in a labyrinth of double-agents, deception and damn fine acting from the year’s best British line up. The film must be judged on its own merits, and whilst I am sure that this will not be to many mainstream movie-goers’ tastes, it is one for those who are looking for a film of a different type, time and pace. Expect it to be up there when the Oscar’s are being handed out.