Wednesday, 28 December 2011

FILM REVIEW: TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY


Universal Pictures
Now Showing




Although billed as a Cold War thriller, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is anything but thrilling. That is to say, not in the action sense of the term. Tinker Tailor may not have you on the edge of your seat or your pulse racing, but it will have your cerebral cortex working over time in an attempt unravel the film's labyrinthine plot.

Adapted by Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan from the classic bestseller by John le Carre, that plot centres around the uncovering of a Russian mole in the upper echelons of British Intelligence in the early 1970s.

And that task falls to George Smiley (Gary Oldman), called out of a retirement he was forced to take when his superior and mentor, Control (John Hurt), botched a mission in Hungary (events of which are detailed in the film's opening sequence).

As his mission involves investigating his former colleagues at Intelligence headquarters, colloquially referred to as The Circus, Smiley enlists relative newbie, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), to help root out the traitor. The prime suspects? Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik).

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy boasts arguably the best (British) ensemble - Oldman, Hurt, Firth, Cumberbatch, Jones, Hinds, as well as Tom Hardy and Mark Strong, and a brief but lively Kathy Burke - of any film made in 2011.

It also features across-the-board consummate filmmaking: the screenplay by O'Connor and Straughan; the sepia-like cinematography by Hoyt Van Hoytema; the score by Alberto Iglesias; and the period perfect production design and costumes by Maria Djurkovic and Jacqueline Durran, respectively. It's a film that's hard to find fault with. And yet.

Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (helmer of 2008's superb vampire film, Let The Right One In) brings such a coolness to the proceedings in Tinker Tailor (aided greatly by said cinematography and production design), that while I wouldn't call it distancing or difficult to engage with, there is a sense of events happening within a hermetically-sealed world.

True enough, British Intelligence during the height of the Cold War was no doubt a cloistered, secretive world but I could have used a little more heat. No Bond or Bourne theatrics, mind, but a little more pulse to offset the British reserve. Watching Tinker Tailor, my brain was pumping; my heart, not so much.

Still, intelligence and reserve are traits not to be sneezed at in this day and age of filmmaking, where the tastes of 14-year-old boys seem to dictate the majority of Hollywood output. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is very much a film for grown ups, something to be thankful for and to be savoured, even as you puzzle through it.

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