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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy -- Film Review

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Featuring the creamiest of the English crop, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is sure to generate a plethora of expectations, on account of its impressive cast, and also due to its background in literature. The film is based on a 1974 British spy novel (of the same name) from acclaimed author John Le Carré and is set around retired British intelligence officer, George Smiley (Gary Oldman, The Dark Knight, Leon, and so many more...) as he begins to discover the most shocking of skeletons in the most scandalous of closets.

I would compare the film, rather obscenely, with any of the three monstrosities that make up the Transformers film franchise, in that like any one of those films, I’d unequivocally place Tinker, Tailor... at the very tip of the filmmaking spectrum. The glaring difference, of course, being that the films occupy separate sides; the best and the worst of contemporary filmmaking, if you will.

The film scrupulously succeeds in painting the right picture and displaying it for the audience to see – a grim world, positively dripping with the smoky stench of paranoia, deceit, murder, and creating an image of the Cold War which can be felt from beginning to end, highlighted flawlessly in the opening scene, depicting a British agent, Prideaux (Mark Strong, Kick-Ass, Sherlock Holmes), meeting with a Hungarian contact in order to root out the identity of a mole, who has burrowed himself into the very heart of British intelligence. That’s where the magic lies, in the orchestration of events, the flow of exposition, the tone – imagine Tim Burton without the whimsical side – the well-dressed Secret Service men who stumble around each other, cigarettes hanging consistently in between their lips, stony expressions not giving anything away, heavy faces hiding heavy secrets.

Of course, the aesthetic brilliance of the film is merely part one of this heavily-layered labyrinth. There’s a story within these walls wrapped tightly and woven intricately in with Thomas Alfredson’s (Let The Right One In) astute direction and it’s a ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ type deal. There will be no big finale, no loud explosion, no chiming Hans Zimmer score to accompany a majestic final revelation. What you will be left with is a tale that twists delicately between past and present, heedfully dropping hints at the right moments, taking George Smiley, and his Watson-esque assistant, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock), and indeed its audience, to all the appropriate locations and informants as the truth unravels in some rather startling scenes.

Again, I sing the cast’s praises – actors such as John Hurt (Alien, The Elephant Man), Oldman, Colin Firth (The King's Speech, A Single Man) need very little introduction, and all play important roles here, which they devour with a melancholy ambivalence. No one is there to bowl you over – the film’s protagonist is Oldman, and reliable as ever, his performance is as assured as Alfredson’s direction. Grey-haired, grey-faced, his somnambulist attitude to his duty as well as his personal life is always seemingly at ease. The supporting cast is magnificent, featuring the previously mentioned Mark Strong, the recently established Tom Hardy (Bronson, Inception) and the BBC’s new boy Cumberbatch. All fit into this tale in an instant, understanding their place in the affair, and contributing wholesomely.

James Bond, it ain’t. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is slow, deliberate, thoughtful, thrilling and as uneasy as any film relating to the Cold War should be. It’s a world shadowed not in black, but grey, and we are guided through the corruptness of higher powers by Smiley’s moral principles, Oldman’s performance, Alfredson’s certified talent, and a laid-back yet daring script, each doing their part to create perhaps a masterpiece, and one of the best films of the year.

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