By: Samar Khan
Gary Oldman. Tom Hardy. Benedict Cumberbatch. Colin Firth. John Hurt. Ciaran Hinds. To say that the cast of the film adaptation of John Le Carre’s famed spy series is at an A-list level is an understatement; this film stars a “who’s who” of British cinema. In keeping in line with the Cold War theme established in our recent Bridge of Spies review, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy replaces the Americans with MI6 (British Intelligence) against the Soviets, in a very thrilling cat-and-mouse game intent on unmasking the traitor embedded within the Circus (MI6’s upper echelon).
To start off, all those worried about the large ensemble cast potentially being too egotistical to coexist in minor roles within this film can rid themselves of any worry as the cast meshes perfectly and sees every actor deliver a stellar performance, regardless of screen time. Another thing to keep in mind is that this film is not targeted towards those that have an inclination for action-heavy spy films a la the Bond film series, but rather those that are willing to think and appreciate the subtle nuances that the film painstakingly recreates from its source material.
It seems hard to believe that it was over twenty years ago that Gary Oldman was playing insanely over the top – and still memorable- villain Stansfield in Léon The Professional. In Tinker, Oldman heads the cast in the role of George Smiley, recruited by Control (played masterfully in a short role by John Hurt) to sniff out the spy at Circus, with the suspects being assigned codenames that are illustrated in the film’s title. Smiley has two weaknesses that are established early on, his cheating wife and a Soviet equivalent named Karla. It speaks volumes about the quality of the script and the direction that not once are either of the two parties shown yet they both play an integral role in establishing Smiley’s character and aiding in arriving at his decision determining who the mole is. Within the cast that we mentioned was as deep in high-end talent as any in recent memory, Oldman stands out for portraying his veteran character as someone that would normally be as nondescript as can be if not for Oldman mastering how to portray the brilliant mind and checkered past that helped earn his Smiley character his position within MI6’s Circus.
Accompanying Oldman are the actors mentioned above and it truly is a veritable dream team of the top British actors alive today. Cumberbatch and Hardy play roles one would not expect them in with their massive popularity nowadays, but it speaks to their quality as actors that they excel in their roles (Hardy was a delight as the disheveled Ricky Tarr). Mark Strong is amongst the least heralded of the cast yet delivers an equally poignant performance in his role as a teacher whose role in the introduction sets the stage for the rest of the film. There is no disappointment amongst the cast’s performances, further helping the film stake its claim as one of the best of 2011.
The film was directed by Tomas Alfredson, he of Let the Right One In fame, which established his credentials as an auteur capable of establishing the right blend of melancholia and tension amongst Tinker’s less than happy group of spies. Alfredson’s direction was just the right amount of subtle, capturing the smallest of facial expressions and presenting them in ways that make the viewer actively wonder who the mole could be. Although the revelation of the mole was a tad anti-climactic and should have been guessed by the more attentive viewers a few scenes prior, the setup leading up to said reveal was executed as well as can be, with Alfredson’s presentation keeping the viewer in a state of suspense and tension throughout. Very rarely can one say that a film is just the right length as an adaption from a book –Peter Jackson’s ludicrously bloated Hobbit trilogy, anyone? – but Alfredson manages to capture the essence of the TV series and book in the run time of 127 minutes. Here’s hoping he gets another crack at adapting source material as well written and established as Le Carrie’s spy series, his work on Tinker solidifying him as one of the better directors in cinema.
The cinematography and sound that accompanies Alfredson’s direction was nothing short of brilliant itself, with the sound editing standing out for its innovative use of conversation filters. To put it another way, the sound editing helps the audience listen to conversations within Smiley’s head and filters it just right that it presents the key phrase which helps him solve the mystery as if it was homing in on it. A tad difficult to describe in text form but it is something that needs to be experienced in order to be appreciated for its innovativeness. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytemma’s use of stylistic nuances further elevates the quality of scenes, as lingering shots that focus in on random or insignificant objects still evokes a sense of intrigue for the audience. The visual pleasure that Hoytemma’s shots are something which must be experienced along with the aforementioned sound editing, with something as insignificant as a close-up of Oldman’s character’s furrowed brows on his face, draped in shadow, still somehow serving to showcase to the audience what his character stands for. Speaks to the quality of the cinematography that scenes such as this can be paired with the highly-tense opening scene that was focused on quick cuts and yet still flow well together.
For those that appreciate old school espionage tales or just wish to see all of Britain’s finest actors in one film together, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a must see. Nowhere else will you get to see Sherlock Holmes in a film with Mad Max and King George while Commissioner Gordon is omnipresent.
Chulbul Pandey bids thou adieu after gracing the film with a score of A.