'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' (dir: Tomas Alfredson, 2011) Cert: 15
After months of fun-loving and easy-going flicks filling our multiplexes, September has finally brought UK audiences a 'thinking man's film' in the shape of Tomas Alfredson's cinematic adaptation of John le Carré's classic novel 'Tinker Tailor Solider Spy'. Many have fond memories of the television translation starring Alec Guinness as George Smiley but now it's Gary Oldman's turn to wear those shoes and he is bringing an abundance of British talent with him to the big-screen...
London, the 1970s. After British Intelligence spymaster Control (John Hurt) and his espionage partner George Smiley (Gary Oldman) are sacked, sensitive information regarding the security of MI6 begins to emerge. It becomes apparent that a Soviet mole has penetrated The Circus which forces Smiley out of 'retirement' and enables him to spy on fellow spies involved in the Secret Service. It becomes evident that the mole is one of five men but suspicions and doubt absorb the tormented environment leaving it impossible to trust anyone.
Right from the opening credits, the picture's tone is categorically established; 'TTSS' is leery, cold and unsettled. Locations, characters and plot points feel as if sculpted by acid and stale cigarette smoke - nothing is what it seems and certainly nothing is pleasant, but yet in all of this paranoia and dread lies hopeless beauty, artistic creation and a burning desire.
The gloom sinks in instantly when Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) is sent by Control to Budapest where he is to obtain a Hungarian general who is willing to return to the West to release the mole's identity, but this being a grimy, loathing and unnerving spy thriller, Prideaux's hard work is not respected and leads to dramatically focused consequences.
Much like the films of Michael Haneke, Alfredson has masterfully captured raw emotion, violence, tension and doom by showing audiences such tiny portions. 'TTSS''s hard-hitting action is explosive yet invisible; if viewers are expecting car chases, gun showdowns and beautiful woman, they will be sorely disappointed. The action is condensed to four yellow-stained walls which encapsulates a group of tightly-wound older gentlemen, all whom have different mannerisms and ideals for 'success' against the mole. Dialogue exchanges are frank, punctual and in sets of brief bursts. Lingering silence and scenes of endless nothingness are intoxicating and absorbing, body language speaks volumes and slight-of-hand causes momentous tension. In fact, Smiley himself fails to utter words for approximately 10-15 minutes when the picture begins, and he is located in the majority of scenes.
|Still from 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' (dir: Tomas Alfredson, 2011)|
Oldman's Smiley makes suggestions by tweaking his glasses ever so slightly, or exhaling a thoughtful breath; his persona is tied down by the dramatic weight of his exterior shell and it's simply marvellous to endure. At some critical points, audiences can almost see inside his mind; it's much like a Swiss watch - every single part contributes to the cogs turning and presenting time. Smiley's mind is somewhat of a beautiful mystery laden with unfathomable thoughts and details so intricate, the majority would be scratching their heads as they search for an explanation.
'TTSS' refuses to spoon-feed viewers and requires undivided attention. If you are used to this types of brooding and vast pictures, it should not take you too long to work out what is going on and why so, but if you are new to this content, or an espionage arthouse thriller does not sound like your typical cinematic visit, this may not be for you. Having said that, I whole-heartedly recommend every single soul to see this picture; it sinks it's hooks into you from the off and fails to let you go. Like a noose slowly tightening as more secrets unfold and characters begin to question others and indeed their own morality, 'TTSS' does it's up-most to keep viewers locked down and trapped into this world of slippery agents and manic fax machines.
Alfredson was the perfect directing candidate for taking le Carré's novel to the silver screen. This being his first film in the English language, he has incorporated all that was blissfully gorgeous but tonally strict with his earlier masterpiece 'Let the Right One In' (2008) and applied it to the drab and seediness of this novel.
Many will also be pleased to know that this feature does not fall into the rather depressing pattern that many ensemble cast movies do. All involved have valid screen time, important impact to the narrative progression and are individually established through wonderful character development. If viewers believed the poster boasted a terrific cast, 'TTSS' features many more well-known faces including Kathy Burke, Stephen Graham and Roger Lloyd-Pack that only add to this sheer example of how exquisite our acting talent is.
As well as Oldman’s mesmerising yet low-key performance as Smiley, Tom Hardy is simply stunning as Ricki Tarr; a rough-and-tumble type plastered by his sheep’s wool coat as he embarks on a mission set by Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) which ends up with him falling for a girl who “Isn’t even his type”. Toby Jones is also wonderful as the bitterly smug Scot Percy Alleline who obtains the codename ‘Tinker’. Strong, Burke, Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds and Hurt are also extremely well-cast and provide electric performances but the film’s star is Cumberbatch’s Guillam aided by a ‘Beatles-esque’ haircut and whip-smart dialogue. Guillam gets the best of both worlds; he has the authority to ask of favours from fellow partners but takes his share in dirty duties on behalf of Smiley. A scene involving the obtaining of documents, passing bags and checking for glaring eyes is tense, taut and beautifully performed.
When you lay in bed at night and the only thought circling your mind is based upon what you have just seen, it is sheer proof that one has been affected. ‘TTSS’ fascinates, immerses and absorbs its audience and the payoff is extremely rewarding. In truth, this is a ‘critic’s film’; it has all the fitted components and is driven by a tour de force of performances rather than boisterous action and glitz. It’s incredibly assured and handled, driven and maliciously motivated and worthy of many award nominations, and for my money, it is the best all-round film of 2011 so far.
Gripping, exciting and strangely beautiful, Alfredson’s adaptation is nothing short of a masterpiece.
By Chris Haydon