Sunday, 18 September 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Review

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy  

Strangely for a British-based, potentially award-winning film, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy had a rather lack-lustre build up. While it picked up near its release, few trailers and little media attention had resulted in the film slipping under the ‘radar’. However when reviews began to emerge, ‘amazing’ ‘brilliant’ and ‘spectacular’ were terms plastered onto every poster, TV spot and film article. The ‘prediction’ of a BAFTA winner became apparent, thus an intrigue was inevitable. Originally a novel by John le Carré, it was adapted into a BBC television series in 1979 starring Alec Guinness. Having not read the book or watched the series, it was interesting to see Tomas Alfredson condense a seven-part show into 2 hours. Known for his direction of 2008’s Let the Right One In, Alfredson has had a relatively sparse filmography and has tended to stick to Swedish film-making. Therefore with a star-studded British cast, and a very British story, how would he manage?

The plot follows a number of officials from the British Intelligence Service as rumour spreads of a ‘mole’ leaking information to the Soviets. George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is taken out of ‘retirement’ and is tasked with finding the double agent among four primary candidates; Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). On first glance, the film’s plot seems simple, however after witnessing a botched operation in Budapest and a ‘setup’ in Turkey, its an engrossing and quite complex narrative. Many will find the story a bit hard to follow as it skips back and forth between time slots, but nothing that really impedes the film. However the film’s pacing is a bit all over the place. A long-winded intro sequence/ montage of Gary Oldman being silent in different locations gets tiresome. And when he finally speaks, it fails to match the build up. The overuse of long, drawn out shots of people sitting and ‘first-person’ perspectives from files, slow the film’s pace and become tedious. Thankfully by the end of the film Alfredson nails everything, creating tense and dramatic sequences and a very fine and satisfying last note.
Acting-wise, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has a fantastic cast that definitely showcases British performances from established actors and up-and-coming ones. Benedict Cumberbatch puts in a superb performance as Peter Guillam. His amazing voice and energetic screen presence create a sophisticated and memorable character. Tom Hardy also puts in a stellar performance as Ricky Tarr, whilst Mark Strong is brilliant as usual. However Gary Oldman’s performance is the one that has grabbed the media’s attention. His portrayal of Mr Smiley’s lonely, muted personality is nothing special. But during the course of the film, through dramatic and fierce dialogue confrontations, his character comes into his own. However with such a big cast, the likes of Stephen Graham and Ciarán Hinds seem underplayed. While I recognise that condensing a seven-part series inevitably results in the omission of scenes and a immediacy to events and characters, why cast lead actors? Hinds doesn’t say anything in the entire film, while Graham has a few scenes but little dialogue, neither really showing their talents. It’s disappointing but understandable. 
The film’s look and feel is fantastic in its recreation of the 1970s. From the cars, fashion and general aesthetic, its an immersive experience that feels very stylish and slick. On the other hand, the soundtrack is somewhat confusing from Alberto Iglesias. Jazzy and classical notes scream the era and match the somber yet chilling visuals. However Mediterranean guitars don’t correspond to the rainy, grey vistas of London. The choice of Julio Inglesias’s cover of Charles Trénet's “La Mer” is a bizarre one that doesn’t suit the film’s captivating ending. 
Overall Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is very good film, however is slightly disappointing when compared to the critical ‘hype’ the film has gained. Great performances, stunning production values, and a gripping story result in an enjoyable experience. While it isn’t the “powerhouse“ or “masterpiece” that many have stated, it’s a fine effort by Tomas Alfredson and is one that’s up there as one of 2011’s best. Definitely Recommended after a “Summer of Blockbuster Shlock”.

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