Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
PLOT: In London, circa the early seventies, Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) - a scalp hunter for The Circus- a division of MI6, remerges after a presumed defection, with information suggesting that one of the heads of The Circus is a deep cover mole for the Soviets. The minister of intelligence recruits George Smiley (Gary Oldman) - an agent drummed out of the service after a botched operation, to investigate the claim. Using his protégé, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) to infiltrate The Circus, Smily must determine which of the four section heads, code named Tinker (Toby Jones), Tailor (Colin Firth), Soldier (Ciaran Hinds), Spy (David Dencik) is the mole.
REVIEW: John Le Carré is a famously difficult author to adapt. His complicated, twisty-tales of espionage are known for their bitingly realistic look at the spy game (his pen-name is actually a pseudonym that he adopted due to being an active MI6 agent when he started writing). TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY was previously adapted (to great acclaim) by the BBC, with Alec Guinness making an iconic George Smiley, who Le Carré has prominently featured in many novels.
In a way, Smiley is like the anti-Bond. Hes middle-aged, not particularly charismatic, physically weak, and a cuckolded husband (with his wife Anne being serially unfaithful). Smileys strength is his mind, which allows him to be a master manipulator who approaches the spy game like a chess match.
Tomas Alfredsons TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY is without a doubt the best big-screen adaptation of vintage Le Carré since the classic THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (which almost functions as a prequel to this, with Smiley playing a small but significant part). Gary Oldman, for the first time in years, gets a role that really calls upon his immense talent as a chameleon. Using only a pair of thick glasses, Oldman is able to make himself almost unrecognizable as the quiet, introspective Smiley- evident in the way he carries himself or even swims- with his head always above water, never mussing his hair or glasses. Oldman also does something really intriguing with his voice, giving Smiley an upper-crust, halting way of speech thats far from how Oldman normally sounds. Its an intriguing choice, and fully appropriate for the character, who only speaks when absolutely necessary (Oldman doesnt utter a single word until about fifteen minutes in).
Coupled with Alfredsons taut, elegant direction and you get a spy yarn thats unlike any other youre bound to see anytime soon. In Le Carrés world, being a spy is not even remotely glamorous, and the barren Circus offices are wildly different from the sleek MI6 headquarters of the Bond films. Here, The Circus is so underfunded that at the drunken X-Mas party, one of the bureaucrats tries to water down the punch to avoid spending too much money on alcohol. I cant imagine M or Q doing the same thing.
Boasting Le Carrés gift for characterization, along with one of the best casts in recent memory, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY is the kind of film that, while thoroughly enjoyable while youre watching it, grows in your mind afterwards. About twenty-four hours after watching this I was struck by the notion that it might be one of the best films Ive seen all year- and one of the few films to have that effect on me was the RED RIDING TRILOGY.
Other than Oldman, the other standout performances come from Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong. Fresh from his acclaimed turn in BBCs SHERLOCK (as well as a strong role in Steven Spielbergs WAR HORSE), Cumberbatch plays one of those mid-level bureaucrats that by necessity is thrown into the cloak and dagger machinations of Smileys plot. Hes used as Smileys pawn, despite being thoroughly unsuited emotionally for this type of work, and a lengthy set piece where he tries to smuggle a ledger out of The Circus, is the highlight of the film.
Of course, Tom Hardy is bound to get a lot of recognition of his role as Ricki Tarr, and once again he proves himself to be a chameleon worthy of comparisons to Oldman. Here, he plays a playboy-style agent, suddenly stricken by his conscience due to a relationship he forms with a doomed asset. Its by far the most reserved Ive seen Hardy thus far, and a great part. Mark Strong- who seems to be in everything these days, has one of the best roles in the film, with him playing another Scalphunter, whose function is solely to be used as a blunt tool and then abandoned. Its a small part, but it sticks with you. Last years Best Actor Oscar-winner Colin Firth takes the same regal bearing he used in THE KINGS SPEECH for his part, infusing it with ruthlessness and amorality that will no doubt shock his fans. Hes superb.
In addition to the aforementioned actors, there are also superb roles for Toby Jones, John Hurt and many others. For anyone that likes sophisticated, adult entertainment, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY is an easy sell, and my rave probably wont tell you anything you dont already know from the trailers. Yes folks, its just as good as it looks, and its one of the highlights of an already good year.
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|Extra Tidbit:||Richard Burton in THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, gives one of the best performances I've ever seen.|