Bringing together the best of Britain’s acting talent, John Le Carre’s most successful spy novel, and the atmospheric director of Let the Right One In, was always a potential high wire walk. The potential loaded into the production of this film was so high that it was reasonable to expect that it could all have gone very wrong.
Tinker Tailor Solider Spy does nothing of the sort, it shines from it’s opening sequence through to the final credits, consistently well paced and thoughtful, shot through a palette of smoke stained rooms and dimly lit corridors, the hunt for the mole within is compelling, absorbing and challenging in equal measure.
Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, the role made famous by Alec Guinness in the iconic 1970’s TV serial, and creates an entirely new Smiley, a man of few words who observes all around him and manoeuvres the pieces in this game to ensure his own safety and success. Oldman is spellbinding and his final monologue, one of the strongest moments of screen acting of his career.
Oldman is supported by a cavalcade of male British acting talent. Tom Hardy plays a brooding outsider, Toby Jones the weasely lieutenant, Ciaran Hinds the gently spoken enforcer and Benedict Cumberbatch brings a human edge to the story with scenes which show the sacrifices he has made being particularly emotional and moving.
Further support is provided by Colin Firth and Mark Strong both creating characters who are fully formed and believable in a world where no one knows what to believe. Firth handles the material with ease and proves his talent in a role which builds on the incredible work he put down in A Single Man. Strong’s disappeared man reappearing as a school teacher has layers upon layers of detail each one studied and applied with subtlety and finesse, more like this from Strong in the future could see him breaking out from his usual roles.
Crowned with a smoke fuelled, grizzled performance from John Hurt which underlines the atmosphere of the whole film the ensemble cast bring a level of performance rarely seen in modern cinema and one which should be flying high come awards season. It is crucial to the movement of the plot that emotions, doubts and changes in tempo can be communicated through a look and only with a cast all performing at the top of the game can this be achieved.
Alfredson is also a man at the top of his game, bringing his Scandinavian sensibility to a very British tale, he has an outsiders view which separates and judges each scene individually. His deft touch and command of storytelling means that this espionage movie, which is about everything but espionage, hits its notes every single time.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not a spy movie, it is a movie about spies, and about what being a spy does to them as human beings and as men working with other men. It is as much an exploration of the workings of the 1970’s MI5 as it is an exploration of men and how they relate with other men, especially when put under a microscope in the workplace. There is something of George Smiley in all of us and Alfredson and his dynamic cast shows us this unflinchingly, unnerved and raw.