Monday, April 23, 2012

Movie Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Gary Oldman as George Smiley
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch and John Hurt

Often, when we think of the word "spy" we associate it with the likes of James Bond. Or even Jason Bourne. Physically strong men with a knack for operating high-tech devices and bedding beautiful women. There's little sitting around because there's just too much that has to be done at various exotic locales from around the world.

But then there's George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a former intelligence agent, who is lured out of retirement by Control (John Hurt) to investigate the possibility of a Soviet double agent working within the Circus (the nickname given to the British Secret Intelligence Service, aka MI6). Based on the 1974 John Le Carre novel and adapted for the screen by scribes Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, Tinker Tailor Solider Spy weaves through a labyrinthine plot that involves Soviet agents, double crossings and murder most foul. Smiley is essentially the anti-Bond. Where Bond has time to sip martinis and woo women while on the job, Smiley is meticulous and precise. He doesn't have time for fun and games. It's old-fashioned intrigue where most of the mystery is solved while sitting behind a desk and speaking in hushed tones.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Gary Oldman
The challenge of the film is that it asks its audience to watch for minute details and patiently wait for the slow reveals. With its deliberate pace, Tinker Tailor lets its narrative unravel naturally, without gun battles in the streets to keep our attention. It holds its secrets close to the chest, preferring to keep the audience in the dark for as long as it takes Smiley to reach his conclusions. The film is more grounded in realism than the majority of spy thrillers --- Tinker Tailor is your grandfather's type of espionage.

Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (who rose to fame in 2008 with his lyrical vampire drama Let the Right One In) pays close attention to period detail, from the tweed jackets to the tacky '70s office decor. Like last years Tree of Life, Alfredson's challenging film can be somewhat alienating to mainstream audiences. It purposely sets itself up as a game of chess and the plot moves about as fast as an actual game.

However, two aspects help elevate Tinker Tailor from just being brushed off: the performances and the clever script. The cast is impeccable; arguably one of the best ensembles of 2011. Led by a beautifully restrained performance from Oldman, who give a master class in subtle acting, there's also a whose-who of British talent on display. The three standouts include Colin Firth as potential suspect Bill Haydon, Benedict Cumberbatch as the young and eager spy Peter Guillam and Tom Hardy as reluctant informant Ricki Tarr. Each bring their own sizeable talent to the film, drawing the viewer into their tangled web.

While there are pacing issues with the narrative, the screenplay is an intelligent and challenging piece of work that follows through on its promise to reward the viewer who sticks with the story until the very end. Although you may be thrown off by the somewhat dry narrative, there are enough clues thrown your way to keep you intrigued by this intricate mystery.