Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

25 Dec

Title: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Year: 2011
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writers: Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, based on the novel by John le Carré
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciarán Hinds, David Dencik
MPAA Rating: R, violence, some sexuality/nudity and language
Runtime: 127 min
IMDb Rating: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Metacritic: 87

That Gary Oldman hasn’t even been nominated for an Oscar is pretty hard to believe. The man is one of the best working actors, beloved by peers, critics and audiences alike and he hasn’t gotten any kind of recognition by the Academy. The performance he gives in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy should be enough to earn him at least a nomination, even though after being snubbed by the SAG and Globes it looks as though he’s a darkhorse contender for the fifth slot, but hell, even if no recognition comes from the Academy, his performance is still one of the year’s very best, in a film that’s also amongst the year’s elite, an espionage film that’s really smart, intricately plotted, acted by some of the very best British actors, and masterfully directed by Tomas Alfredson in his first stab at an English-language film after breaking out with Let the Right One In in 2008, which was my eighth favorite film of that whole year, how skillfully he gets this whole thing together, bringing out a sense of vivid paranoia as he starts putting together this intricate puzzle, is just amazing to watch, he just knows how to create a gripping atmosphere.

The film is, of course, an adaptation of John le Carre’s classic 1974 spy novel of the same name, which had already been made into a seven-part television series with Alec Guiness taking on the role of George Smiley back in the late seventies, and it’s really neat to be back in this world, and to now have Mr. Oldman wearing the iconic glasses, every little thing about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy feels exactly like it should, the images, the sounds, everything is just right. What’s great is that Mr. Alfredson and his cast and crew never underestimate us as an audience, they give it to us thinking that we’re smart enough to keep up with it, and yes, you’ll have to pay attention to this film in order to really get into it, but trust me when I say it’s well worth it. Not to mention that he really keeps true to the spirit of the novel, he doesn’t try to make stuff in the film ring true in today’s world, he’s just comfortable in showing us the world Mr. le Carré designed, a precise moment in time during the 20th century in a world that was ran by men, always knowing how to thicken his atmosphere for a chilling effect.

It’s that bleak atmosphere that keeps the pulse of this one beating a really steady pace, and it’s part of what makes you watch this film so intently, it’s what makes those quiet conversations so damn compelling to watch. George Smiley, unlike what his name would suggest, isn’t a guy that doesn’t smile all that much, he sits around, observant, waiting for his enemies to come to him or make a big mistake and make it easy for him to catch them. The whole film is incredibly intriguing, there are mysteries within the mysteries, and it’s all plotted like an expertly-made labyrinth for us to try and follow. The head of The Circus, which is the name given to the MI6 here, a man called Control who’s played really well by John Hurt, is under the impression that there’s a mole within the agency’s elite members. Control, along with Smily, however, botches up a mission in Budapest and the two are let go. Smiley is then later taken out of his retirement, brought back into the fold, undercover, with the task of finding out who that mole is, who’s selling them out to the Soviets. Consider this, the main suspects of being the mole are played by Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds and David Dencik. Like I said, this is a dream cast.

The whole world presented in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is all about the secrets and the lies and where loyalties lie. This obviously isn’t a seven-part series like the one the BBC did over three decades ago, but Mr. Alfredson is a brilliant director, using the two hours he got to perfectly represent the novel, using great imagery, the great faces and body language of his actors to say things that would normally take minutes of dialogue to express, it’s his attention to the little details, and the talents of his amazing cast that make this one not miss a single beat and spell out a truly remarkable story. And then there’s Mr. Oldman, one of the finest working actors, playing a lead character who doesn’t utter a word until nearly twenty minutes into the film, playing Smiley in a brilliantly nuanced way, showing us so much just with his eyes and his voice, it’s a masterclass in acting, and the fact that he got such an unbelievable team of co-stars to spar with is magnificent, the scenes in which he gets to trade off lines with Mr. Firth are a marvel to watch.

What’s great is there’s always something going on this film that we don’t know about, spies spying on spies, with Smiley working under tips provided to him by a rogue agent named Ricki Tarr, who’s played by Tom Hardy, an actor that’s headed for greatness, and with the help of one of the agents in Circus he can trust, Peter Guillam, who’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the guy in charge of playing the titular character in Steven Moffat’s Sherlock for the BBC. Like I said, there are only great, great actors in this film.

What’s great is that while it’s obviously incredibly fun to watch the whole labyrinth unfold bit by bit, paying attention just to keep up, it’s also amazing what goes on behind the actual spy stuff the plots gives us, a tale of men that find themselves lonely and desperate in a really dark world. It’s incredible to see what living a life like this can do to someone, to men that love their country and that are consumed by secrets in a world in which knowledge means power, secrets that they can’t even utter to themselves for fear of having them heard.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is amongst the year’s very best films, my tenth perfect grade of the year, a film that will make audiences try hard in order to keep up with the many twists it takes, and if you cant’ keep up with the many characters and events then you’ll get lost and not really enjoy this one as much. But trust me, make the effort to keep up and you’ll see that Tomas Alfredson has expertly crafted one of the best espionage films of the past couple of decades, it’s one of the finest directing works of the year. The cast is all brilliant, igniting every single scene and making you really interested in this whole thing, and at the center of it all you have a screen icon, delivering a masterfully understated performance, playing a hero that isn’t really all that likable and not really doing all that much to humanize him, just playing him to perfection, showing us that he deserves that long overdue invite to the big dance.

Grade: A+

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