Saturday, October 01, 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

PCMR Verdict: Solid, well-scripted, well-acted. You'll like it a lot, but you mightn't love it.

PCMR Rating: 7.5/10

Tomas Alfredson's 'Let The Right One In' was an unexpected treat for PCMR a few years back: one of those unhyped quality movies that earn the 'sleeper hit' moniker. A sleeper hit is a successful film that the pundits didn't see coming. In other words, while bloggers and fanboys were busy generating buzz, via masses of column inches and blog posts about the tiniest pre-production details of the 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' movie, Tomas Alfredson made and released one of the best movies of 2008, with nary a blogger trumpeting its arrival. (Not before they'd been to see it, at least).

Part of what made 'Let The Right One In' so good was an inscrutable period setting, which made it difficult for the audience to pin down exactly where and when the film was set. Also, the colour palette he puts up on screen is striking in it's blandness, its austerity. Finally, his characters do not always speak their minds, leaving it up to the audience to figure out motivations and reasoning for themselves.

These characteristics are all part of the DNA of 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy', the most recent adaptation of John Le Carré's spy thriller. Everything feels very 1970's London, although there are no orienting shots of Big Ben or subtitles on the screen to tell us this for certain. Even the scenes in flashback are not announced, with the device of a new pair of glasses for Gary Oldman's character - Smiley - subtly letting us know when we're in the past, and when we're looking at current events.

The catalyst for events in Tinker Tailor is the presence of a mole in the upper echelons of the British secret service. The alpha-male characters in the movie all have their own agendas to defend, and their actions are all open to interpretation. In the presence of so many potentially unreliable narrators, the audience are continually left guessing about who is telling the truth.

When a script and it's cast are as good as they are here, each interaction between the players becomes open to interpretation. The character actors here are all very capable, but also quite restrained, and to a man they are able to breathe real lives into their parts (Ooh, matron! - Ed)

Oldman plays against type as the understated Smiley, but he is ably supported by a supporting cast that can only be described as an embarassment of riches: John Hurt adds a touch of gravitas, Benedict Cumberbatch proves a striking presence, and Tom Hardy does a good turn, following on from his breakout role in Inception. Colin Firth and Mark Strong are effective as ever, as is Toby Jones - the poisoned dwarf - and the always solid Ciaran Hinds.

There's no doubting that Tinker Tailor is a very good movie. PCMR's reservations, reflected in my 7.5 rating, are mainly due to the movie's payoff sequence. The setup is excellent, tightly scripted and tense: there is a mole and here are all the players. By contrast, the payoff, where we identify the mole and see what happens next, fell a little flat for me.

That said, there is a lot to like, if not to love. It's a very solid trip to the flicks, and Tomas Alfredson's future is guaranteed.

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