TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY Review

It is due to the ensemble cast and the whole spirit that has surrounded this film since first hearing of it that I have been anxiously awaiting its arrival at my local cinema. This weekend it finally expanded across the country and I was able to catch a glimpse of a film I might have included in my top 10 of 2011. Though I find a kind of solace in the fact this would have landed outside the top 10 for me I still liked the film very much. What it is about "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" that makes it an engaging drama though is not the usual reasons you might be inclined to enjoy a film. In fact I don't know that the word "enjoy" is even the right way to describe what you would be expected to feel after watching the film. The film is engaging and tells a complex story that never directly addresses a central conflict as a traditional film might. The reasons that make it such an intriguing trip though are that of the way the characters handle themselves and how the layers of each of their contributions to the story are told. Director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) weaves in and out of each characters role in the quest for discovering a double agent. It is such an intelligent and prestigious feeling film that it almost feels odd how dark and cold the film actually is. It is a film very much of a time I cannot relate to. I was engaged by the chance to become acquainted with it for a few hours though and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" turns out to be a film with aspirations that don't rise above being an authentic spy thriller. It is the style with which it is told and the caliber of the performances that raise the bar. We don't see any explosions, and are made to hold our breath with every solitary gunshot; this isn't your typical genre film, but one that feels closer to life than we could have ever hoped for.

 Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Smiley
(Gary Oldman) converse on what steps are to be taken next.
I have never read the John le Carré novel on which this is based nor have I seen the 1979 British mini-series that starred Alec Guinness. I was going into this new production with very little knowledge about the plot of the film outside of what I'd seen in the trailer and read about in summaries. From what I gathered it seemed like the novel itself was likely too complex to condense into a two hour film as the mini series ran for nearly five. It not only made me curious about the book but as to how this film might play out. Would it feel rushed? Might it be a tight plot with loose narrative? As the lengthy opening credit sequence began to roll though I could see that Alfredson was not going to allow this to be a rushed experience to get to the meat of the plot. He allows for the cold, gray atmosphere of the mid-70's to influence the story just as much as the actions being taken. He rolls it out at such a pace that the audience receives just as much a sense of paranoia as his characters are feeling.

John Hurt plays Control the head of the British Secret Service known only as "the Circus" who is forced out after a failed mission in Hungary where one of his top agents, Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) is shot. In light of Control resigning, so does his right hand man George Smiley (Gary Oldman) while Percy (a slick Toby Jones) assumes the role after years of disrespect and animosity between he and Control. Percy brings with him to the head his favorite agents in the forms of Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). This all leads to Smiley being asked to find the mole at the top of the agency and because Percy and all of his co-horts are suspects Smiley has to go about this in a rather stealthy manner. He hires Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is also an operative for the agency in a division that is assigned their dirty work to assist him. This is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the plot goes but their is such a restrained, weathered feeling to it that it never feels overwhelming or lost on us as an audience.

Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) is as much a mystery to the
audience as he is to his friends.
The film, while deeply concerned with the work and how important it is to the difference in the free world and evil, also serves as a broad portrait of how this all boils down to men creating drama and distrust so as to give them reason to exist. To give their jobs a purpose. It gives a message that we are all the same, our good and bad deeds, it is simply the side you choose (or in this case love for your country) that determines your ideology with which you carry out your actions. This element of the film that causes you to take a step back from the more focused story it is actually telling lends that unsettling feeling you have as it comes to a close. That feeling that sends chills down your arm while at the same time realizing what a well crafted movie it is. That is what Alfredson did best with the material, to have conveyed that atmosphere through which these spies worked and existed. The way in which they have to operate away from their families which have no connection, no relevance to the work they are performing. This is best conveyed in the commanding yet also restrained lead performance of Oldman as Smiley. He is our source of light in the film and though his demeanor suggests a man who is beaten down by life and years on the job, he performs his duties with a strong and very real presence. There is a sense of obligation to his mentor but it is due to the depth that Oldman brings to his performance that suggests Smiley would much rather disappear than to become entangled in further moral compromising matters.

Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) follows his instincts on a mission
that leads him to discover more than he bargained for.
It should also be noted that Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr shows up for a subplot that puts him as one of the service's "scalp hunters" (an equal to what Guillam does) that involves him becoming a kind of rogue agent that while on a mission is able to confirm the existence of the mole in an inadvertent turn. Hardy is an actor who since 2010's "Inception" has become a hot commodity and will be seen three more times in 2012. Hardy makes the most of his limited screen time here as Tarr, a man cast out due to an instinct he followed while on his mission as well as a loss he has suffered. It is a moving piece of work that contrasts Oldman's performance with just the right amount of calibration. It is also interesting in the fact Oldman and Hardy will be seen in "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Wettest County" later this year, their chemistry here lending more good anticipation to two already prestigious products. It is in credit to much of the cast though that they were able to pull off what is no doubt a condensed version of the source material so flawlessly. Last years best actor winner Firth giving a charismatic and debonair performance and the up and coming Cumberbatch who has already garnered good will with his small role in "War Horse" turns in a more flashy yet inconspicuous performance that shows his ability to be subtle while still making an impression. This is clearly Oldman's film though and he certainly deserves the praise he has been receiving as what makes "Tinker Tailor" most interesting is the words these men exchange are just as thrilling as if they were firing bullets at one another.