Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Director - Tomas Alfredson
127 Min; R
George Smiley - Gary Oldman
Control - John Hurt
Jim Prideaux - Mark Strong
Percy Alleline - Toby Jones
Bill Haydon - Colin Firth
I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy at the end of 2011 and I’m glad that I waited to write my thoughts, because this film, like a fine wine, takes time to mature. Upon leaving the theater I had a nagging feeling that something was askew, a piece of the puzzle was missing, and it left me with a sadly empty feeling. I loved this film in almost every way, yet what was it that left me questioning what I wanted to say about it? The answer, it turns out, is simply time – time to reflect and ponder, to dissect and admire. I admire director Tomas Alfredson for his portrayal of MI6, the British intelligence agency, and the cast of characters who all fall under suspicion to being a devastating mole for the Russians. I’ve been looking forward to this film ever since I found out Alfredson would be directing, his Låt Den Rätte Komma In (Let The Right One In) (2008) was such a fabulous portrayal of a dark and desolate landscape with vampires living among us that I was sure he would nail the tone of a spy thriller. He did not disappoint.
I don’t think a detailed summary of the plot is necessary to understand the beauty of this film, but a basic understanding would probably help. Take the wonderful cast of Mark Strong, John Hurt, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth and Gary Oldman, throw in some amazing camera work in scenic city settings, and finish it off with muted tones and a fun and intriguing score and you have the makings of a great thriller. Absent from this film are Hollywood-style fireball car crashes and eye-rolling dialogue, so rest assured this is a thinking person’s excursion into the realm of cinema. Of course, even a thinking person is going to miss something the first go around, because the one flaw I thought I found in my initial viewing was a coherent way of keeping all the people and sub plots in some form of manageable and linear plotline, a telling of the story that left me a bit perplexed at times, but not in a frustrated way, just in a wish-I-knew-exactly-who-that-person-was kind of way, ok?
When a mission in Budapest goes wrong, Control (John Hurt) is forced out of his high ranking position in MI6. In a last gesture before he is ousted, he proclaims that Smiley will be leaving with him. Smiley is his number 1 man, played in pitch-perfect tone by the wonderful Gary Oldman. In a great scene we only see the back of Oldman’s head, with a slight nod, as Control announces this, leaving us to wonder if he knew this was going to happen, or if he even cared. Smiley’s been at the spy game a long time. He is a man who is always on his game, right down to the detail of leaving a simple device on his door to know if someone has entered while he is away. And so it is that a year or so passes before the story really begins. Brought back in an unofficial role, Smiley is asked to investigate the people he worked so closely with over the years, the unnerving realization that a recently deceased Control was working on uncovering a mole within The Circus, the MI6 elite, who has been working for the Russians.
I truly loved the push in and pull back methods of camerawork, used sparingly but so effectively, creating an uneasy feeling for the viewer whilst providing beautiful scenery and a slightly unsettling sense. Information is revealed to us in small doses, through flashback at times, and the film assumes we will be able to keep up. It isn’t always easy, but it makes for a compelling drama that will keep you thinking throughout. If anything can sum up the performance of Oldman it is a simple scene in the back of a movie automobile, a pesky insect flying about inside while one man fails to swat it away. Smiley observes, he stalks, and he opens the window at the right moment, the insect flying away, and the back of Smiley’s head, to us, moves slightly emoting a calm, cool and collective character who’s been there, done that.