Film: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciarán Hinds, Kathy Burke
The British Secret Intelligence Service aka the Circus is past its heyday, with the death of its boss Control (Hurt), the firing of his right-hand man George Smiley (Oldman) and the ascension of the ambitious bureaucrat Percy Alleline (Jones). And when rogue agent Ricki Tarr (Hardy) learns of a Soviet mole been buried in the organization for decades, Smiley must return to play a covert role in smoking out the mole. Control, apparently, always had his suspicions, narrowing down the suspects on five senior circus officials: Alleline, Roy Bland (Hinds), Bill Haydon (Firth), Toby Esterhase and Smiley. It was to this effect that he had earlier sent Jim Prideaux (Strong) on a botched-up operation to Hungary that lead to his disgraceful exile from the Circus and signaled the end of the Control era.
Now, it’s up to the faded Smiley, his young protégé Peter Guillam (Cumberbatch) to save the intelligence agency from the viper it has been nursing at its breast.
While there is plenty of Cold War paranoia that one would associate with spy films set in the 70s, if you think that the genre is obliged to provide outrageously advanced gadgetry, choreographed car chases and over-the-top gun battles/hand-to-hand combat sequences, you might want to sit this one out.
Taking ingenious liberties, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson does a remarkable job of condensing John Le Carre’s 1974 book by stripping it down to its elements while changing, rearranging and inventing certain details. Then, the finished product is adorned with a moody, meditative and melancholic air.
Unlike an episode from the verbose 5-hour long BBC series where even the book’s narrative was reset into the characters’ dialogue, spoken lines in the film are relatively sparse. The film, however, stays true to the confounding spirit of the book where exposition trails way behind numerous vital (but sometimes overlooked) hints and references to names and events. The codenames and spy jargon, thankfully, is toned down. Interestingly, the film also eschews all forms of melodrama, which adds to its uniquely what may-be-misconstrued-a- sterile quality (like its protagonist).
The cast is among the film’s strong points, and is beyond dependable. Gary Oldman, as a faded intelligence man shunned by his promiscuous wife and his organization and was even the subject of suspicion of his mentor, is brilliant with his silences, passiveness and understated mannerisms. While Alec Guinness is renowned for his performance as Smiley in the 1979 version, Oldman's masterful performance bears closer resemblance to Le Carre's descriptions.Everyone from Hurt as the omniscient Control to Strong as the betrayed Prideaux proves to be just perfect while Cumberbatch brings a callow, vulnerable quality to scalphunter head Guillam, who in previous incarnations was little more than a short-fused lady’s man. Burke as the Circus's discarded Soviet-watcher Connie Sachs whom Smiley turns to, is guaranteed brings rare laughter amidst the knuckle cracking and stifled yawns with a line, not in the book or show, but apparently something quipped by poet WH Auden to Le Carre.
Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography captures perfectly the decrepit dampness of a former empire on the wane.
Alberto Iglesias’s moody tones, jazz-based like most espionage movie scores, supplement the onscreen activity well and Julio Iglesias’s jaunty version of Charles Trenet’s La Mer ( the tune of which is more familiar in Bobby Darin's Beyond the Sea) brilliantly pops up out of nowhere to tie together the scenes of a crucial montage.
While Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (admirably) doesn't offer fast thrills, the film, based on the eternal themes of trust and betrayal, is one that rewards you for your patience and attention.
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Film: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
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