Thrilling car chases, underwater battles, exciting gadgets, sultry women, an over-the-top villain stroking a cat, sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads: absolutely none of that can be found anywhere in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the latest adaptation of a John le Carré spy novel. Following in the footsteps of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (and, I assume, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: the miniseries), the film crafts a tense and gripping spy tale out of the mundanities of spy life.
The film follows the recently (and forcefully) retired George Smiley (Gary Oldman) as he is tasked with covertly rooting out a mole in the upper ranks of MI6. As Smiley, Oldman gives a masterfully subtle performance, hardly letting any emotion disturb his steely exterior. He just watches and takes everything in, confident in his ability to just straight up be better than everybody else.
Helping him in his quest is the owner of the most British name in all of history, Sherlock‘s Benedict Cumberbatch, who is used as Smiley’s pawn inside the Circus, and Tom Hardy as the rogue agent who has access to information potentially confirming the mole story. Both give performances worthy of their respective statuses as burgeoning stars, Cumberbatch especially, who only gets one real scene all to himself, but nevertheless sells the absolute hell out of it.
The entire film basically stands as a treatise on the sheer pleasures of watching actors acting. The cast is packed to the gills with talent, to the point that the film would be worth watching regardless of direction, editing, etc. Fortunately the rest of the production was handled with as much care as the casting. The direction from Tomas Alfredson (following up the brilliant Let The Right One In) is staggering, he uses long lenses and creative editing to provide us with an almost voyeuristic look at the bureaucracies of British Intelligence.
The timeline shifts without warning, the story juggles about a dozen different plotlines, and most of the communication is expressed through knowing glances and body language. The whole thing winds up as sort of an anti-James Bond film, with any violence occurring in spurts and presented in a cold and straightforward manner, and while that may sound daunting or inaccessible, it isn’t.
What it is is brilliant. But for as much brilliance lies in the spy tale, the real power of the film comes from the fleeting character moments, like Cumberbatch’s scene that I mentioned above, or Tom Hardy’s revelation that he wants a family, or the look that comes across Oldman’s face when he spots his wife in a passionate embrace with another man. The mole hunt provides the intrigue, but it’s these vital moments that give this film its unflinching humanity.
Posted under Kyle's Adventures in Pop Culture
This post was written by Kyle on January 9, 2012