Friday 16 September 2011

Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Year: 2011
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Screenplay: Bridget O'Conner, Peter Straughan
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch

Synopsis is here:

At one point in the movie Kathy Burke's supporting character mentions that the second world war were happier times because at least then you were proud to be English. Burke's small almost throw away statement is one the solidarity she felt at the time of war, now lost due to an alleged mole at the head of the "circus" (MI6).  This for me is the crux of Tinker Tailor Solder Spy; a film which, almost ironically comes out at a peak of general mistrust from all around Britain.

This film adaptation of John La Carre's novel is a complex and complicated thriller, and what drives it isn't so much who the much talked about actually mole is (although I'm happy I didn't guess it straight away), but more on how loyalty is brought and corrupted. The film's seemingly low key climax is one that displays how far trust has been stretched for the wish for control. The film's final montage of the stellar cast (a beautiful mixture of both big and small screen actors) shows how deep the scars have been inflicted on these people.

Alfredson's film works so well because it take time over showing how deeply isolated the spy game is. Close relationships are broken, belittled and bargained for, information is called gold dust for good reason and moral compasses are as murky as the films cold, drab colour scheme that Alfredson utilises to enhance the tone of the film. The film is literally as grey as the the shades these characters dwell in.

Let's be very clear about this, this is no Bond or Bourne movie. The lines are never drawn out and the information we receive is drip feed to us. Alfredson demands that we hold attention for this movie and those who do will be rewarded. Dialouge is often coded and it's important to see the slight changes within a characters face rather than the words they speak. The film never speaks down to you, and Alfredson is happy to tell the films story within the visuals and the body language of the characters. The pinnacle of this lies in the performance of Gary Oldman who at 53 plays George Smiley as if he's at least 12 years older. We discover everything we need to know from the eyes behind the thickly rimmed spectacles. One of the films highlights is superbly crafted monologue by Oldman in which his brief meeting with the mysterious Karla highlights all the emotion the crackles beneath the surface. In watching the brief recollection we see that it's how the story is told (pinpointing the exact moments of loss both professionally and emotionally) that really makes what is said hit home as hard as it does.  The film is littered with such moments. Vast amounts of information communicated not by trite dialogue, but solemn glances and knowing looks.

I loved this movie not only because of its brilliant cast and delicately sombre tone, but its an eye for detail and a wish to let said details envelop around you. The film makes sure you know it's two hours long and makes sure that every character is accounted for. The depth we manage to gain from even one scene of some the supporting roles is at times astonishing. Those who rely on the summer sun blockbuster guns, girls and car chases will be sorely disappointed that Commissioner Gordon doesn't do any physical ass kicking here. But those looking for an adult feature will find much to gain from it. The paranoia lies within the characters as thickly as the dusty old rooms they inhabit. The relationships and trust these people have worked so hard to build is on a constant knife edge. Despite being a period piece (Early 70's) the understands that even now in the age of information it's all about holding the right cards. Everyone here has poker faces to die for.