Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

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Based on the novel by John Le Carre, which was adapted years ago into a TV mini-series starring Sir Alec Guinness, and featuring a top notch cast of fine British actors firing on all cylinders one thing is clear from the very start – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy won’t please everyone (this is not a mindless, action flick but rather a thoughtful, intelligent exploration of trust, loyalty and accountability) but it exudes quality from the opening shots right through to the final credits.

Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, an espionage veteran who is secretly given the task of uncovering a mole within MI6. He has to work on the matter without being noticed by the four main suspects, of course, and may put others in danger. He’s helped in his endeavour by Benedict Cumberbatch and Roger Lloyd-Pack, playing a relative newcomer and an old hand, respectively. The four main suspects are played by David Dencik, Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds and Toby Jones, with each one seeming to have both motive and opportunity to endanger both an cool character played by Mark Strong and a scared agent played by Tom Hardy. Twists and turns lead to a finale in which audiences eagerly await the revealing of the mole.

Don’t go into a viewing of this movie expecting some new Bond-alike or Bourne type of franchise. It’s a spy movie as far removed from those action-packed outings as it’s possible to be while remaining firmly within that particular subgenre. To compare this to the other frenetic action-fests just mentioned would be like comparing The American to Grosse Point Blank. There are common points of reference but the two are also worlds apart.

Director Tomas Alfredson takes the script by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan and does his best by it. He never really panders to modern audiences and everything is given a very distinct, quite bleak, British 1970s aesthetic. The pacing may seem slow to many but this really isn’t a problem, with every scene and performance offering such a richness of detail and rewarding nuances to be observed.

Then we have that cast. Not only are most of the names involved a fantastic selection of actors but they’re also bringing their A-game along for a film that allows them all to have some great moments, sharing the burden and the depth of the performances with everyone else lucky enough to be invited into the ensemble. Gary Oldman may be the leading name (and bloody superb he is, too) but it’s a struggle to single anyone out from the wealth of great moments and great characterisations. Ciaran Hinds is, sadly, left with the least of the characters but still manages to make an impression while Toby Jones overcomes a strange Scottish accent, David Dencik does sterling work and Colin Firth easily provides plenty to support  his recent promotion to “national treasure”. Then we have Cumberbatch, Strong, Hardy, Hurt, Graham, Burke and Roger Lloyd-Pack, all giving performances that show not one flaw amongst them. Quite a treat for anyone yearning for a movie that showcases quality acting above anything else.

It’s complicated but also relatively easy to follow, as long as you pay attention. It’s deadly serious but not without moments of humour. It’s tense and thrilling without being cliched or full of action. In fact, Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is often as deceptive as the mole that George Smiley is so desperately seeking to uncover. Which is, to me, a fitting point on which to end this review.

DIRECTOR: TOMAS ALFREDSON
WRITER: BRIDGET O’CONNOR, PETER STRAUGHAN (BASED ON THE NOVEL BY JOHN LE CARRE)
STARS: GARY OLDMAN, BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH, COLIN FIRTH, JOHN HURT, MARK STRONG, TOBY JONES, DAVID DENCIK, CIARAN HINDS, TOM HARDY, KATHY BURKE, STEPHEN GRAHAM, ROGER LLOYD-PACK
RUNTIME: 127 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: FRANCE, UK, GERMANY

Film Rating: ★★★★½

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