Movie Review: TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
On the back of five star reviews and incredible buzz from its screenings at the Venice Film Festival, there may not be a movie more anticipated in the world than Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. Gary Oldman steps into the shoes of George Smiley in the second film from Let The Right One In’s director Tomas Alfredson, telling the story of a retired MI6 agent brought back when a mole is discovered to be hiding at the top of British intelligenceTo consume, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is any film obsessive’s wet dream. Whether it’s the framing of the shots and the beautifully bleak cinematography or the enigmatic score and tremendous sound design, every second of Alfredson’s sophomore effort is a wonder to behold. In the technical department, the film literally doesn’t put a foot wrong and is almost certain to receive some nominations as the awards season rolls around.
The screenplay, however, fails to quite match the brilliance of the film’s style and restrains Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy from being the masterpiece it could have been. Although it all makes sense by the time the film reaches its powerful concluding moments and its final hour is about as brilliant as mystery stories get, reaching this point is occasionally exasperating.
With numerous essential plot elements that need developing and establishing within its first half, writers Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan understandably struggle at providing such important exposition in a way that is clear, well-structured and still engaging for the viewers to watch. As a result, with a number of early flashbacks that seem to make little sense and some scenes that are extremely vague, the movie is frustrating and slow to begin with.
Nonetheless, while this John Le Carre adaptation tries to find its feet early on, it remains engaging because of Tomas Alfredson’s phenomenal vision of MI6. Worlds away from previous spy movies such as James Bond, the ‘circus’ is realistically brought to life through incredible production design that pictures British intelligence as unappealingly metallic like some rusting underground bunker where which cigarette smoke lingers underneath the low-lights and the offices are dilapidated and depressing.
Not only does M16 look seedy, however, but so is the entire universe that these spies inhabit. Rather than being romanticized with glamorous lifestyles, flashy gadgets and high fashion, this is instead a world where adultery, double-crossing, deception and insincerity are all part of the daily agenda. One scene in which Alfredson explores the personal life of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, Peter Guillam, for example, evokes a sad examination of how being so consumed in the business of secrecy will often spill into one’s private life as we witness Guillam’s controversial homosexual relationship.
Ironically for an actor who played Sherlock Holmes in the BBC’s mini-series last year, Cumberbatch perfectly embodies the Dr. Watson-like role of the story with the youthfulness of a newcomer into the ‘circus’ and the amazing skills that makes his partnership with Smiley so endearing. Also brilliant are Colin Firth and Toby Jones in antagonistic and mysterious roles that help keep the plot’s main enigma going strong throughout as well Mark Strong who demonstrates a vulnerability we haven’t previously seen from the actor.
Make no mistake, though, the real stars of this show are lead actor Gary Oldman as Smiley and arguably the most pivotal supporting character, Ricki Tarr, played by Tom Hardy. The former is looking at his long-deserved Oscar nomination here illustrating a master-class in powerful subtlety while the latter provides the heart of the story as a tragic hero facing formidable consequences for discovering the mole in British intelligence.
Though its slow to begin with and takes a while to start making sense, Tinker Tailor Solider Spy delivers a mystery story that is cerebral, suspenseful, brilliantly acted by a once-in-a-lifetime cast and directed by someone proving himself to be one of the world’s finest new film-makers. In spite of its flaws, this is nothing short of a must-see.