Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy
My Rating: ★★★★ (4 stars out of 5, or 8/10)
In Short: Decent, original British spy thriller with great cast and screenplay
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a decent British spy thriller that does away with the James Bond, gun-toting, destructive, action-packed fare of recent times, and challenges us to sit for 90 minutes and analyze a thriller set within the bowels of the MI6 the way it should be made, without the artificial plot elements and clichés that we’ve become used to.
Though at times difficult to follow but never implausible, this thoughtful and well made film is one of 2011’s most impressive among a crop of mostly pathetic artificial extras. The cast are brilliant. Gary Oldman is at his career-best as George Smiley, supported by brilliant performances from Colin Firth and particularly the ever-prominent Tom Hardy, whose career seems to be on the up recently with a crop of notable recent performances. John Hurt’s aging but wise face is also a nice comfort, and his reassuring voice (when I hear it I always think of: “This is the sad tale of the township of Dogville…”) will put the viewer at ease early on. Other excellent performances include Mark Strong as an agent who was present a mass murder in Hungary, Colin Firth as the sophisticated but reassuring Bill Haydon, Benedict Cumberbatch as Guillam, who leads Smiley to Mark Strong, and I just have to mention a short cameo from British comedy queen Linda LaHughes Kathy Burke.
The plot, set in the 1970s in the midst of the Cold War, revolves around the detection of a mole within the deepest echelons of the MI6, who Control believe is passing information to the Russians. Smiley, himself a suspect, is led through by people and stories to discover the heard of the matter, uncovering some disturbing and distasteful truths along the way. The film has a remarkable pace, and the direction by Swede Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) is smooth and perfect for the film. In the hands of someone with less regard for images and their composure, the film could’ve looked far less sophisticated and comfortable.
The film is based on a popular book by John le Carré, which was then adapted into a popular TV series. Carré, also the author of books adapted into films such as The Constant Gardener and The Tailor of Panama, produced the film and even appears in a small cameo as a party guest. He has such a skill for writing brilliant, complex stories that feel so simple that it seems insulting to call them ‘stories.’ Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is perhaps his most magnificent achievement. Every line of dialogue, written by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan (the latter also penned recent hit films The Debt and The Men Who Stare at Goats) from Carré’s novel and approved by Carré, is fantastic and serves to keep the story going but also allow the viewer to sink into every sentence not as a puzzle piece, but simply a great piece of writing. The unexpected laugh from the audience in the theater with me when one character blunty said the line “Fuck off” in such a British manner (evoking similar imagery and sound as a similar shot in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) goes to show how their screenplay can both thrill and entertain.
Though Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, as fun and refreshing as it is to watch, grows tiresome after a while, it always manages to retain our interest, whether with the dialogue, plot twists, acting or direction; there is always something worth looking at on screen. None of the film’s subplots are pointless or boring, they are always interesting and relevant. Each cast member complements another in every scene, from the way they interact to the way they simply look at each other. When me and my girlfriend left the theater after the film, she remarked: “David Fincher should’ve directed it.” I considered this for a few moments, then laughed, replying: “David Fincher wouldn’t have had so many cups of tea.”