Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy.

It's rare to see a cinematic adaptation of a modern literary classic, which has already been adapted to near perfection by the BBC in the late 1970s, be met with such universal anticipation. Though I suppose when you've assembled possibly the most impressive British cast of a generation, being directed a man who made one of the best films of the last 10 years, if you're not like myself and bursting with excitement, then you at least take a bit of notice.

Yes, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, the man who blew audiences away with his beautiful telling of Let The Right One In in 2009, has been handed the near impossible task of bringing John Le Carre's epic spy thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to the big screen. It tells the tale of retired secret service agent, George Smiley (Gary Oldman) as he's ordered to find out which of his former colleagues is the mole leaking British intelligence to the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

From the bleakly detached narrative to the painstakingly authentic Cold War aesthetics of England during the 1970s, Alfredson has managed to create a magnificent and separate entity which can stand apart proudly from the book and the TV series. In essence the premise of the story is left unchanged from Le Carre's brilliant novel but it was heartening to see the way he presented the film not just be a drastically cut down version of the Beeb's telling of it.

That's not to say it's dumbed down to moviegoers. Far from it. The intricacies are all there from Smiley's quest to find the mole and his underlying troubles in his marriage to the brilliant overlaps with Ricky Tarr's (Tom Hardy) exploits in Europe and exploring the past which still haunts Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) which all ties nicely together with a series of flashbacks which flesh out the rest of the characters so wonderfully.

It's hard to follow up a presence such as the great Alec Guinness - just ask Ewan McGregor when taking the mantle of Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels - but Gary Oldman takes George Smiley and makes the role his own. Unlike his predecessor, Oldman's Smiley is a much colder, crueller, soul and possibly the best and most understated performance of Oldman's career to date. His dialogue is minimum as he tells Smiley's tortured back story through the emotive suggestions of his eyes. One of his shining contributions comes while telling the story of his only encounter with the antagonist of piece, Karla. Told in a much more abstract and reflective way than the untouchable TV series presented it.

I could be here all day saying all the superlative buzzwords under the sun to explain my love the supporting cast, but I'll try and keep it brief. Tom Hardy's crazed Ricki Tarr, Benedict Cumberbatch's loyal Peter Guillam, Colin Firth's sleazy, womanising, turn as Bill Haden, Kathy Burke's blunt and outrageous Connie Sachs, Mark Strong's workmanship as Jim Prideaux, Toby Jones' stressful tendencies as Percy Alleline and John Hurt's darkly humorous and ultimately wise contribution as Smiley's boss, Control. All of them, excellent. It was probably only a Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman and Bill Nighy away from achieving perfection.

Tomas Alfredson should take much plaudits for his attention to detail and the atmosphere created in the film. The silent corridors, the cluttered rooms, the dull English landscapes and the eerily dim light. It's almost as if he wanted to give the story a subtle horror element - not too dissimilar from his adaptation of Let The Right One In in its overall tone. Yes his pacing of the story might come under question from more devoted fans of the source material, but as a film it's a mesmerising experience, especially when submerged in Alberto Iglesias' morose score.

Final Thoughts
Films like this don't come along very often. Rarely do we see one which showcases the talents of some of the best actors of a generation so eloquently. Gary Oldman was marvellous as the iconic George Smiley. Tomas Alfredson's reputation will surely continue to grow and bigger things now undoubtedly beckon. He's created a cold, dark, tense period drama with such painstakingly authentic detail. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: Go, see, right, now.

Favourite film of the year. So far.


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is in cinemas everywhere from Friday.


Ronan said...

Nice review Andrew, looking forward to this one. Seeing this crazy Tuesday.

Andrew Moore said...

Hope you enjoyed it Ronan! :-)