Sunday, 9 October 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

2011, 15, Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy

It has been commented that plans to re-adapt John Le Carré's classic spy novel (or depending on where you stand, remake the classic BBC series) were close to shutting down because of George Smiley... Sir Alec Guiness embodied him so well, the sheer thought of anybody filing his boots seemed scandalous. And then a bright spark in the room suggested Gary Oldman.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a British film through and through. Embedded in a Cold War era, London is a murky, drab and bloody realistic depiction, enhancing the accomplishment achieved by Swedish talent Tomas Alfredson. Best known for critically-acclaimed Let the Right One In, it is near impossible to believe this to be his first feature in the English language - a film that relies heavily upon the dialogue delivered in hushed tones. In honesty, if you’re unfortunate enough to miss a line, it's fully possible you'll be thrown for the remaining running time. The plot, however, is simple. Four men - Percy Alleline (Tinker), Bill Haydon (Tailor), Roy Brand (Soldier) and Toby Esterhase (Poor Man). One spy. Previously dismissed member of the MI5 Circus, George Smiley is the man assigned by John Hurt's Control to crack down on the defector. This being a 'spy' film, nothing is as it seems... apart from one thing. Gary Oldman is electric. Surrounded by a cast at the top of their game - Mark Strong making little go such a long way; Tom Hardy continuing to establish himself as the one-to-watch; Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch being damn privileged to work with a top notch cast at such an early stage of his career – this is undeniably Oldman’s film. A stark contrast to the bellowing zany types of Leon, The Fifth Element and Sid and Nancy, his Smiley, slow in movement – strong in presence, doesn’t have to speak to command attention. A twitch of an eyebrow, a curl of the lip – it is menial actions such as these that become portals into the mind of the character he embodies just as well as Guiness.
Those expecting plenty of Bourne-esque rooftop shootouts, look elsewhere. For Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy is a complex, non-linear, flashback-fuelled puzzle. Dialogue free scenes that rely on actions to indicate events are prominent. Alfredson wants his audience to work. The harder they work, the bigger the rewards– which include the pleasure of watching what is surely to become a modern classic. If the outcome of the plot seems to be furnished over briskly, see it as the point. Who the spy happens to be is not what’s important – it is the journey you experience with George Smiley and his faceless companions who have had such an impact on his life that rings in the memory long afterwards. No scene speaks this louder than when Smiley recounts meeting the mysterious Soviet spymaster Karla; the positioning of the camera upon the effectual emotive performance Oldman delivers ensure this scene to be the best cinema has offered all year.
With any luck, Alfredson and Oldman will be rewarded for their efforts come award season…