DIR: Tomas Alfredson • WRI: Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo • DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema • ED: Dino Jonsäter • DES: Dino Jonsäter • CAST: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Ciarán Hinds
Featuring an exhausting list of top-class British actors that would make a Harry Potter film feel inadequate in comparison, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a stylish espionage thriller in the classic Cold War vein. Based on the novel by John Le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy eschews the action and gadgetry of the post-Casino Royale/Mission: Impossible generation of spy movies in favour of pacing, tension and intrigue; and will find an excited audience amongst those who long for the days of The Manchurian Candidate and Klute.
The unbeatable Gary Oldman plays the iconic, grim-faced spymaster George Smiley, recently forced into retirement from the ‘Circus’, the epicentre of British intelligence. But when evidence arises that his ailing and increasingly paranoid former boss, Control (John Hurt), may have been right about a Soviet mole infiltrating the highest offices of the Circus, Smiley is called in to smoke the mole out.
The suspects, codenamed ‘Tinker’, ‘Tailor’, ‘Soldier’ and ‘Poor Man’ after an old English nursery rhyme, are the arrogant but arguably incompetent new Circus boss Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), ladies’ man Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), gruff but cunning Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) and prissy, watchful Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). Smiley, aided by young spies Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy, must uncover which of his former colleagues is leaking vital intelligence to the mysterious Russian operative known only as Karla, without any of the cabal finding out.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy will come under scrutiny as it has been shot before; as a BBC miniseries starring Alec Guinness as Smiley back in 1979. Over six-hours long, that series allowed the tension and intrigue to slowly build and boil over. Here, the pace moves slowly but ceaselessly, giving the audience very little time to take in the huge amount of information flowing between agents and interrogators.
However, shot by the visionary Tomas Alfredson, who redefined the arthouse horror film with the exemplary Let the Right One In, this film adaptation has a visual flair that utterly eclipses the sterile look of the miniseries. Alfredson and his team filter the colour of the ’70s through an oppressive grey, capturing the rotten heart of the espionage world in an otherwise vibrant era. Two missions, to Budapest and Istanbul, provide the film’s most visually inspired moments, as well as its greatest thrills.
As Smiley, Oldman gives one of his greatest performances, easily rivaling that of Guinness, making the character a more formidable adversary while still showing his weaknesses, particularly in the area of his troubled private life. Still soaring from his Oscar® win, Firth has enough to play with here and gets a number of the film’s best lines. The rest of the cast are largely strong, though Toby Jones feels strangely miscast, and fans of Hollywood upstart Tom Hardy will be disappointed he has little opportunity to show off his skills. The real revelation here is Mark Strong as bitter, double-crossed field agent Jim Prideaux – the undeniably typecast actor here shines as a character of tragic and unexpected depth.
An expertly made thriller, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy feels undermined slightly by its rushed pace – one can’t help but feel that somewhere near the midpoint between this feature and the ’70s miniseries is the perfect spy tale. Fans of the book will likely be disappointed at some of the greater detail and character development that has been excised, not to mention one hugely memorable (and oft-quoted) line of dialogue that is nowhere to be found here.
Intriguing and intense, this will not please all, but it is a memorable, finely acted and wonderfully stylised spy drama from an emerging master of cinema.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is released on 16th September 2011