Sunday, 25 September 2011

Gary Oldman Goes Spy Catching in 70's Britain


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Tomas (Let the Right One In) Alfredson directs this new adaptation of John le Carre’s famous 1970’s set spy thriller starring Gary Oldman as retired spy catcher George Smiley brought back in to British Intelligence to find a Soviet mole at the very top of the organisation.

I’ve never read le Carre's book and am only vaguely familiar with the old 1970’s BBC adaptation with Alec Guinness as Smiley, so I went to this mainly as a fan of Alfredson and Oldman. And because it has a top notch cast featuring the likes of Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones, Kathy Burke, Mark Strong and John Hurt.

And it didn’t disappoint.

This is a brilliant film with brilliant work by the cast and their director. Oldman deserves an Oscar nom. As Smiley he is quietly compelling and the model of restrained cunning and intelligence though hampered by an emotional weakness around his estranged wife and haunted by some of the things he’s done in his past. Mark Strong is equally as good as a field agent sent out on a mission that goes wrong and who has to then live with the personal consequences. As director, Alfredson paints a suitably drab atmosphere of 70’s Britain – crumbling old buildings, horrible wallpaper and tacky Wimpy Bars (an old British chain for fast food), all beautifully brought to life by spot on art direction and moody cinematography. And the themes he explores are very similar to those in Let the Right One in. Many of the characters here are loners, separate from life. They don’t join in. They watch from the outside. They are all essentially lonely and emotionally damaged people. Also, as with Let the Right One In, Alfredson isolates his characters, often using windows as a barrier. They are seen looking out of them a lot, looking at a world they don’t feel a part of. Then there is the pacing. It is glacial. There is no big action. Instead it is all about conversations, subtle mind games, red herrings and double crosses by oft middle-aged men in bad suits, usually in drab rooms. But it is all utterly absorbing and highly cinematic, showing us a whole new world, the kind we would never normally see; showing us the toll this world takes on these people. This is the true anti-James Bond or Bourne. Only the always good Tom Hardy as field officer Ricky Tarr comes close to a Bond-esque life, working out in Turkey to get secrets from a possible Soviet source, then seducing the guy's wife, thinking that she is the real source. There is no huge climax to the movie either, only Smiley finally working out who the mole is and springing his subtle trap, followed by the sad and grim aftermath.

Tomas Alfrdson's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a beautifully written, acted and directed film with a refreshing adult tone and feel. It requires patience and a certain level of intelligence from its audience. As much as I love my fun/escapist movie entertainment, it is a welcome relief to go see something now and again that is unapolagetically adult and artistically demanding of its audience. 4.5 (5)

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