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Friday, 23 December 2011 01:00

Back to the Cold War with 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'
Written by Diane Carson
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About this Media...

  • Director: Tomas Alfredson
  • Dates: Opens December 23, 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy returns to the Cold War days of early 1970s and the knowledge by the head of Britain's Secret Service, Mi6 that a mole has infiltrated to the highest level of the headquarters called "The Circus." The second sentence spoken by the chief officer, called Control, is, "Trust no one"—good advice for a surreptitious, dangerous investigation.

As a fan of the 1979, seven part BBC series, I wondered how and how well the John le Carré 1974 novel could translate to a two hour 10 minute film. The answer is quite effectively, with Swedish director Tomas Alfredson employing the suspenseful, slowly building pace and studied, atmospheric style he showcased in Let the Right One In. Unlike American films that rush cloak-and-dagger stories and pepper them with action scenes, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy conveys its danger through penetrating stares by wary operatives. The actors' eyes and bodies communicate their distrust, their unease, and their dismay.

Intensifying the motif of seeing clearly, the camera often shoots through bars, windows, and doorways with characters partially obscured and trapped within the frame, often dimly lit in hazy light. Shifts in focus from foreground to background suggest changes in perspective that mirror characters' reassessment, and hence ours. Revealing details accumulate incrementally, without fanfare, relying on an involved, alert viewer to piece together plot points sometimes delivered via flashbacks. Travelling from Britain to Budapest and Istanbul, Soviets and Hungarians and Turks tangle the intrigue.

A reliance on subdued performances means that skilled actors must work at the top of their form. And they do, notably John Hurt as Control, Gary Oldman as George Smiley, Toby Jones as Percy/code name Tinker, Colin Firth as Bill/Tailor, Ciáran Hinds as Roy/Soldier, Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam—all spies. Unfortunately, the women's roles are minimal with Kathy Burke excellent as Connie Sachs.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes cloak-and-dagger deception a problem to decipher for the audience as much as for the characters who must peel back layer after layer in search of the traitorous mole.

Primarily in English with some Hungarian, Russian and Turkish with English subtitles. At a Landmark Theater.

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