Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Category: IIB (English, Hungarian and Russian)
Boasting an impeccable production design that perfectly evokes the drab 1970s in which John le Carre's novel was set, Tomas Alfredson's take of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy can be seen as a period piece about a universe far removed from the present.
However, the Swedish director delivers a film that's utterly modern, despite it being an espionage drama set during the height of the cold war, as it is more real and engaging than those offered by operatives such as Bond, Bourne and Bauer.
Alfredson's reworking of Le Carre's spy thriller concerns itself with intelligence officers at war with their own people and, perhaps most importantly, themselves.
This is illustrated in one of the film's central scenes in which its protagonist George Smiley (Gary Oldman, above right with David Dencik) recalls a remark he makes to a Russian operative: 'Look, we've both spent our lives looking for the weaknesses in one another's systems. Don't you think it's time to recognise there is as little worth on your side as there is on mine?'
With all the political manoeuvres spinning out of the spies' control the battle now lies in Smiley and Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) catching a mole the Russians have planted in the top-ranking hierarchy of the British intelligence service.
Barring the odd foray to Budapest and Istanbul, Tinker Tailor is largely a slow-burning affair. While Smiley's pursuit of the traitor within remains gripping to the last, the turmoil remains largely cerebral and psychological.
And while Guillam finds himself struggling to survive during a few tense setpieces, Smiley's mission to account for 'his generation, his legacy' is at its most riveting when he revisits the past, either when he coaxes tips from sacked ex-colleagues or delving headlong into his pained memories of key moments at work. The scene he constantly recalls is that of a Christmas office party; as the film moves forward and his recollections become more detailed, the viewer starts to understand more about the ennui bubbling within the secret services.
Indeed, Smiley's quest does reveal his associates to be like caged animals trying to claw their way out of stagnation, as they lose sight of the aim of their war when they indulge in the wheeling-and-dealing that could justify the existence of a state apparatus fast losing its relevance in a US-USSR standoff. Oldman's glacial, aloof turn is as remarkable as it is appropriate. His portrayal of Smiley is the embodiment of all that frustration compressed and repressed into one conflicted soul, as he confronts the cynicism and disloyalty running amok around him.
His understated performance is triumph in a wonderfully understated but effective thriller.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy opens today