Sunday, 11 September 2011

'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' review:

After years spent playing campy villains in Luc Besson movies and focus-stealing support characters in blockbusters, the great Gary Oldman stars in one of this year's most interesting and entertaining films: the 70s set Cold War thriller 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'. Here the animated and charismatic actor is cast as an older man, giving a restrained and nuanced performance as retired British senior intelligence officer George Smiley - a man charged with investigating his former colleagues to find a Soviet mole at the top of "the circus" (the film's name for MI6). An impressive ensemble cast also includes John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Kathy Burke, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones as well as recent Academy Award winner Colin Firth.

Based on a best-selling novel by John le Carré, which was also subject to a fondly remembered 1979 BBC TV series staring Alec Guinness as Smiley, this adaptation has been helmed by the Swedish Tomas Alfredson, feted director of 2008 horror hit 'Let the Right One In'. Both films share Dutch cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and along with him an austere, cold colour palette as well as the director's uncanny eye for period detail. On the way to uncovering the enemy informant, Smiley is shown sucking on Trebor mints and dining at a decidedly retro branch of Wimpy. But aside from being charming reminders of a time and place, these banal, slightly drab references also highlight one of this film's primary delights.

This is not a glossy, establishment picture of Britain we're being sold. It's a world very alien from that James Bond inhabits, as our spies juggle with mundane concerns and petty office politics as well as the very real risk of death at the hands of enemy agents. It's a film where our heroes spend most of the movie secretly investigating their friends and, in effect, battling their own government whilst (ironically) trying to catch out one charged with doing the same. Seldom have the words "we're not so very different you and I" seemed less like hollow cliche as they do here, as Smiley - not an idealist or ardent anti-communist by any standard - ponders on the moral equivalence of it all.

As with 'Let the Right One In', 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' has brief, brutal moments of bloody, visceral violence, but it's more concerned with characters and mood than it is about revelling in the pleasures of its given genre. Spy thrillers tend to place plot above all else, but this one is less about the Cold War, and the search for the traitor within the ranks of the circus, as it is about personal feelings of betrayal and isolation. Homosexuals forced to love in secret, shambolic marriages and private regrets are the real focus of this contemplative and moody slice of espionage intrigue.

'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' is out in the UK from Friday (16th September)and is rated '15' by the BBFC.

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