Director Tomas Alfredson is a Swedish director responsible for the internationally acclaimed vampire film “Let The Right One In” which I loved so it would come as no surprise that I would be drawn to this British espionage thriller-drama “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”. Based on the novel by John le Carre which was later adapted into a British TV series, this is a film that demands a lot of concentration and persistence; it is utterly realistic, relies on its dialogue, performances to carry it home. I recently reviewed another so-called “spy action thriller” and this a totally different flavor; it leaves behind what mainstream audiences would call ‘easy to digest entertainment’ and what comes off it is something that most real film fans would call ‘they don’t make movies like those anymore”. In some ways, it is a traditional high-end mind-bending spy drama that commands attention and requires the utmost patience; it may be for the esoteric few and will no doubt alienate some viewers.
The less you know about it, the better would be its experience. The film is set in 1970’s England, where Control (John Hurt), the then head of MI-6, sends a spy (Mark Strong) to meet with a Hungarian general who may know the identity of a Soviet double agent who may be in the organization’s ranks. However, the mission goes awry and the general ends up dead before he can reveal the information. Undersecretary Lacon (Simon McBurney) calls on veteran and retired agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) back to ferret out the mole secretly and stop the flow of leaked intelligence if vital British secrets to the Russians.
The film’s set up is pretty simple and it is the usual standard stuff. The beauty of the screenplay written by Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor is that way it immerses the viewer slowly into figuring out the mystery. It works around foreshadowing, the screenplay is filled with flashbacks, deviations, dead ends and short cuts which is the way the original story had been laid out. The direction was a bit prone to dramatics, but is kept low-key and never flashy. I felt the way the story was moving in a manner that it would actually happen in real life. Alfredson knew exactly how to render a scene; he knew the critical points to proceed and when to leave the viewer guessing. Despite its slow-moving pace, the film is never boring. Alfredson manages to generate tension and suspense through subtle expressions, close-ups, lingering camera work and accompanied by the moody low-key score by Alberto Iglesias, the film just works in a way that you see a lot but do you really?
The magic of the film is the beauty of allowing the viewer to attempt to read the character’s minds. In a story where everyone is trying to cover up something and secrecy is the way they work, it is rare for a film to be able to do this. For a low-key film such as this, we are treated to fantastic performances by distinguished actors. I was very happy to see such talented character performers assembled in the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, and Colin Firth as we see them squaring off in various scenes. It is also to be noted that the supporting cast made up of Stephen Graham, Toby Jones, and Christian McKay perfomed admirably. Svetlana Khodchenkova and Kathy Burke also lend a hand in taking the viewer into its embrace; they were minor characters at best, but they added personality and depth to the story itself.
Gary Oldman takes center stage in the film. I mean, we all saw his performances in “The Professional”, “The Fifth Element” and “The Book of Eli”, this film is a far departure from those roles. This time, he practices a lot of restraint, and his own power is reflected in how he manages to remain low-key. You see his glances, his stone-faced expressions, and pauses to generate emotion and suspense, as I was left wondering what was inside of him. His “Smiley” character’s name is the exact opposite, he is all business as he sorts through his investigation, but he is also very persuasive in what he needed to do. This is a film where there is barely a line delivered in a high tone of voice, but Oldman does deliver a speech (sort of anyway) that gives his character a vibrant interior. There is a scene where Colin Firth (The King's Speech) squares off with Oldman and this truly Afredson’s talent in direction that made the scene extraordinary.
Comprehension and fulfillment would be the key word for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” for one to truly say that he loved the film. It is a complicated piece that has a lot of layers, the more you pry then the more layers you come across with, and everything fits. Each layer has different variables, just who is what and what is not? The final shot speaks a lot for the film as it opened many possibilities if you’ve paid all the attention you can in the film’s entirety. It is an artistic game of cat and mouse, and of cloak and dagger. It left me wondering as to what I have really seen. Was there a more elaborate scheme to it all?
What a pleasure it is to see a movie written, directed and acted by adults, for adults. No fiery blasts, no gruesome close-ups, no half-baked actor-heroes running around in tights as insects or small mammals. No, just a literate and complex script, a story told deliberately but not slowly which captures and keeps our attention, and actors who are so good they can say one thing, mean another, and who knows which is which? Because Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a John LeCarre spy story, there’s … more
Star Rating: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an espionage film that isn’t about action and special effects so much as systematic investigation. There’s an analytical process at work, a logical deconstruction of the situation at hand. This isn’t to suggest that the film is a cold collection of facts and figures; in its narrative methodology, it’s a deeply involving mystery, and at times, it’s highly thrilling. We want to get to the … more
Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of the spy-novel written by John Le Carre while not sticking to the roots it still powders the atmosphere with a thrilling sense of intelligent and masked conspiracy that will blow your mind. One of the most beautiful in-depth rides through the life of secret agents that use their minds as weapons instead of their fists and guns. Controlled, seductive, and eloquent, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" offers moments of a stylized manifesto of the … more