Riding on a wave of critical acclaim amassed at The Venice Film Festival, Tomas Alfredson’s (Let the Right One In) inventive adaptation of John Le Carre’s 1974 spy thriller, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is almost upon us.
Set shortly after the infamous Watergate scandal, this intriguing tale of deception takes place during a period of escalated fear in Cold War Britain. Veteran MI6 agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is forced from semi-retirement when a botched mission in Budapest and the death of Control (the head of the agency, colloquially known as the Circus) leads to suspicions that all is not quite right within this highly surreptitious government organisation. He’s assigned to a mission of the upmost importance; to uncover the identity of the mole working at the very top level of the Circus, who’s been feeding vital information of the highest secrecy to the KGB for years, jeopardising not only the furtive work of these government agents but the security of the whole country. Smiley and the small team he’s assembled to solve this vitally important matter of national interest soon begin to delve deeper into a well of espionage and deceit, what at first begins as a tense but calculated investigation, soon transpires into a minefield of betrayal and as the stakes begin to elevate so too does the degree of risk at hand.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s most noticeable asset is the highly accomplished ensemble cast it has acquired, displaying a pedigree of talent that speaks for itself. In the Lead role Gary Oldman as ‘Smiley’ is exceptional, coming as close to perfection as possible – a monumental statement considering how highly regarded Alec Guiness’s previous incarnation of the character was. His eerily calm, delicately shaded performance contains a sinister touch that reverberates throughout the film. There’s also a plethora of other note worthy performance from such stalwarts of British cinema including Colin Firth, Mark Strong and a delightful cameo from Kathy Burke (who previously worked with Oldman in his directorial debut Nil by Mouth). However, it’s Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch who steal the show. Hardy is utterly captivating as Ricki Tarr, a roguish secret agent who despite his brutal approach has a heart of gold. Cumberbatch, as Peter Guillam the well-groomed assistant of Oldman’s Smiley, gives a tour-de-force performance as a fragile but brave young operative slowly cracking under the increasing pressures of his role.
Director Tomas Alfredson has previously proven he has a masterful ability to create a palpable atmosphere of intrigue and tension with his breakthrough hit Let the Right One In, and whilst Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy may be about as far as you can get from an adolescent vampire thriller, there remains the same artistic flare and nuanced approach to film making within this claustrophobic tale of espionage. His vision of seventies London is a bleak one, emanating a cruel quality which lurks beneath the ever present mist that consumes the streets in a smoke stained shade of disenfranchisement. The look and feel of the film’s set designs are paramount to its charm and from the narrow warren of corridors and bookshelves which surround the dimly lit offices of the Circus to the faded grandeur of the rural country mansions which house those who’ve escaped this international game of cat and mouse, Alfredson has created a thoroughly detailed and realistic depiction of Britain at this time. It must also be noted that Alfredson has done a remarkable job condensing the source material (the TV series clocked in at 317 minutes, spanning 7 episodes) into one fairly comprehensive film, culminating in both those familiar and new to Le Carre’s story able to fully enjoy this sympathetic big screen revision.
Viewers should be warned that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s slow but calculated pace may not be to everyone’s tastes. Its highly intellectual method is certainly not the approach most cinema patrons demand from their entertainment but rest assured that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a thoroughly rewarding movie that whilst lacking the high octane adventure of certain spy movies, hides a thoroughly gratifying narrative behind a plot shrouded in a complex blanket of fear and suspicion.
Very few of the film’s characters are illuminated under a glowing light of innocence, each having been involved to some degree in something underhand or devious , yet there remains an almost perverse admiration for all of them. It soon becomes apparent that this glorified whodunit is less about the revelation lurking beyond the horizon. Many won’t be surprised by the unmasking of the ‘mole’, guessing his identity long before Oldman’s Smiley has even begun putting the pieces together, however the joy behind Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s tale is more about the journey than the final destination.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is certainly this year’s most accomplished thriller, only let down by the constraints of its run time which, in itself is a compliment to the film’s range of thoroughly interesting characters . With only 3 months left in the year Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has certainly made itself a contender for film of the year, and after witnessing what happens to those who go behind the backs of the authorities, they’ll be few arguing otherwise.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is in cinemas 16th September 2011.
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Stars: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbacht
Runtime: 127 min
Country: France, UK, Germany