Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

DIRECTOR: Tomas Alfredson.

CAST: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, David Dencik, Toby Jones, John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Stephen Graham, Kathy Burke, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Simon McBurney, Philip Martin Brown.

SYNOPSIS: After a covert mission goes horribly wrong, George Smiley (Oldman) and his superior, British Intelligence spymaster Control (Hurt) are let go from their jobs. But when Ricki Tarr (Hardy) turns up claiming to have evidence that there is a Soviet mole at the heart of British Intelligence, Smiley and colleague Peter Guillam (Cumberbatch) are enlisted to pin down the traitor.

Beautifully constructed and meticulously executed, Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a showcase in pitch perfect pacing, acting and storytelling. Centred around a series of flashbacks utilised as a way in which to pin down the mole at the top of the circus, the race to find the culprit is as sadistically frustrating as it is chokingly tense.

Tomas Alfredson was an absolutely inspired choice as director. With Let The Right One In one of the very best cinematic offerings of recent years, nobody else could have given us such genuinely stunning shots as looking in on Peter Guillam walking through reams of files (possibly my favourite shot of the entire film) and muted speech behind closed windows, contrasted with the whole of George Smiley’s face. What Alfredson has brought to this film is ultimately paranoia. Every character is followed from a distance at some point, with the grey, dated glaze to the screen keeping anything from being colourful and clean-cut akin to the plot. His choice to bring Alberto Iglesias’ orchestrations to the piece adds to this sense of paranoia and builds an all too tangible suspense throughout. At times you can barely hear the layers of the score, a testament to how well it is filtered into the action, all the while adding unbelievable depth to the ever-deepening situation.

Bespectacled and stoic, Gary Oldman is utterly mesmerising as George Smiley. His Smiley is so still, but every single fibre of Oldman’s being, every single drop of blood that courses through his veins belongs to this quiet yet remarkable character. Demonstrating how anger does not need to be shown purely through shouting, Oldman’s rare moments of anger are incredibly genuine, but altogether very startling. For a man who appears very introverted, as we learn more about his friendships and home life, we see a very fragile and lonely human being. A far cry from the big, brassy roles Oldman is so adept at adopting, it is practically impossible to argue that Oldman is the most versatile living British actor. A moniker that may once have been heralded towards fellow cast member John Hurt, it is interesting to see that many of the younger members of the cast are fitting to vie for this title in future years.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy, being two of the most in demand character actors (as well as working in major blockbusters) of the moment will definitely be battling it out for Oldman’s crown when the time comes and Tinker Tailor unquestionably shows why. Cumberbatch oozes incredible charm and intelligence as Peter Guillam, a man whose home life is never indulged in, but the moment it is gives Cumberbatch a chance to remind us why he is quite so desirable.

Hardy is an absolute joy to watch, especially seeing him act opposite his idol, Gary Oldman. Not the tour de force performance we’re used to, in Ricki we are able to marvel at Hardy’s mannerisms, versatility and his ability to hold the audience. Smiley and Tarr appear to form an off kilter father son relationship, emphasising that even though Tarr is seemingly dealing with his situation very well, he is completely out of his depth. He is very alone, just like Smiley, but not willing to accept it.

There are too many wonderful performances to delve too far into, but it must be said that I never thought I’d see the day when I found it fun to hate Colin Firth. Alongside his Bill Haydon, Mark Strong adds another very misunderstood character to his already impressive workload in Jim Prideaux. Toby Jones, David Dencik and Ciaran Hinds join Firth as the four suspects – a brilliant quartet of spite, squabbles and personal glory – all under the ever-watchful eye of John Hurt’s Control. Kathy Burke, Stephen Graham, Simon McBurney and Roger Lloyd-Pack pepper the film with fascinating bit parts and it truly is a shame their service isn’t required a little longer.

The true joy of Tinker Tailor is in its pacing. It is slow, cautious and sets exactly the right tone for a thriller of such magnitude. But for its stillness it involves a great amount of surprise. Gunshots will make you jump and the dismembered bodies may leave you feeling a little giddy, but this violence never feels out of place. The film speeds up significantly when we discover who the mole is, but the actual reveal is a little underwhelming. However, we were given reason to doubt the innocence of all four parties and so the realisation had no cause to be a massive shock. But it’s that key moment when Smiley works it out, when he puts all the pieces together, that is truly triumphant. Listening to Tarr’s voice recordings on constant repeat, the look on Smiley’s face has you begging to understand what has just come to light.

The revelations that come after the identity of the mole hit harder, but the interesting decision to end the film on a surprisingly up-tempo song during such questionable circumstances somehow really does manage to tie everything together perfectly. This once again begs the question of whether anybody else could have been allowed to touch this sacred script. Yes, the cast are phenomenal and there’s no denying their work is close to perfection, but Alfredson’s Swedish touch, his European influence is what makes it work. He has given us a truly unique patchwork of betrayal, guilt, paranoia and friendship that showcases some of the countries best actors at the absolute top of their game.

The rousing applause that ends the film is not arrogance from the director. It is the only plausible way this film could finish.

VERDICT: 5/5

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6 responses to “Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

  1. Sarah Clutterbuck

    I am dying to watch this film, sadly I dont think it is the cup of tea for anyone around me! I shall drag someone with me to get to the cinema.

    And now from your review I am even more excited. Cheers me dears

    S x

  2. Sarah. You need to see it. That is all.

  3. It’s not my cup of tea and I was really expecting to enjoy it! This is a good review though, would be nice if you could take a peek at mine for the opposite view: http://conordcfc.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/film-review-tinker-tailor-soldier-spy/

  4. Pingback: The 2011 BIFA Nominations | iamnotwaynegale

  5. It’s refreshing to read a review that praises the slow pacing of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It hasn’t opened here in Dallas yet but I am looking forward to seeing it. Good review.

    • Thank you! The British reviews seem to have been rather more favourable in regards to the pacing, yes. You’ll have to let me know what you thought of it once it opens in Dallas! Thank you so much for reading – and even more so for commenting 🙂

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