Saturday, 17 September 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - review

In terms of cinematic release schedules and high profile film festivals like Venice and Toronto, September sees a shift from the mindless Summer blockbuster to the potential Awards contenders looking to be on critics' Top Ten lists and winning BAFTAs and Oscars come the end of the year.
And the first major contender has arrived in the form of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Smart women are often referred to as "thinking man's crumpet", and by that rationale Tinker Tailor et all is the "thinking man's spy film". The world of George Smiley is a million miles away from that of James Bond or Jason Bourne. This is espionage devoid of gadgets, car chases, computers, parkour and fist fights.
This is a world where shadowy men meet in smoke filled rooms, speak in codenames and people have to steal paper files, paper ones!
Another name for this film could have been Oldman's Eleven, as it has one of the best casts of recent years, possibly all time, and the common factor is that they all wanted to work with Gary Oldman. This is a cast that includes an Oscar winning King, Dobby The House Elf, Bane, The Elephant Man, Sherlock Holmes and "that guy who is in every British film" Mark Strong.
Out of the supporting cast Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy make the most of their screen time but this is Oldman's film.
He has long been one of Britain's most dependable actors, mixing quality turns (Sid And Nancy, Immortal Beloved, The Dark Knight) with a few paycheck films to afford a new kitchen (The Unborn, Lost In Space, Red Riding Hood). In films like True Romance, Fifth Element and Leon, he can go a bit over the top, "EVVVVVVERYONNNNNE!" but in TTSS, this is Oldman at his most calm and collected. It is a very internal performance and he does so much with just a look or a gesture, procesing all the information until he is ready to make his move. A masterful, understated, unshowy performance.
Tomas Alfredson who directed the wonderful Let The Right One In, has surpassed himself in creating an authentic British period thriller, one that is thankfully devoid of misjudged CGI cats. So much thought and detail has gone into the look and production detail that you can smell the stale cigarette smoke or taste the Wimpy burger being served on a plate... yes there is a scene set in a Wimpy!
Alfredson also resists the temptation to dumb the film down for audiences either. This is a complex and labyrinthe plot (based on the novel by John Le Carre) that has sometimes-difficult-to-place flashbacks so you will have to pay attention so don't mess around with your mobile phone or you'll be completely lost and whatever you do, don't see this with one of those friends who spends the whole movie asking stupid questions like "Who is that guy?" or "why is he doing that?".
It's rare to complain that you wish a film was longer but I could have quite happily sat through an additional 15-20 minutes in order that certain plot elements were developed a bit more. It is harsh to criticise such a well made film but due to such dense and complicated source material (the TV series took 6 hours to reach the same conclusion),but it is difficult to resolve all the plot threads into a neat tidy bundle without feeling like it is over rather quickly, indeed some characters don't get enough screen time to provide credible threats, and this is where a little bit more time could have been used.
But I find it harsh to criticise a film of rushing the climatic reveal and fallout when it ends on such a wonderful sequence set to the tune of "La Mer", the original French recording of what is popularly known as Beyond The Sea. Breathtaking stuff.

4 stars

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