Trust No One, Suspect Everyone

Tomas Alfredson

Gary Oldman
Benedict Cumberbatch
Colin Firth
Tom Hardy

There are times when I genuinely dread writing a review for a critically acclaimed film (especially a British production) which I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. The so called intellectual backlash and outcries of stupidity are, to say the least, frustrating. But at the end of the day, I’m a critic and if something doesn’t live up to expectations and hype, I am duty bound to report just that. So here goes..

After being forced out of British Intelligence, George Smiley [Oldman] is recalled from semi-retirement to investigate a possible double-agent working for Moscow. According to information retrieved by a man wanted on both sides, Ricky Tarr [Hardy], the mole is placed in the highest echelons of MI6, men that Smiley knows all too well. Smiley’s first action is to recruit Tarr’s supervisor, Peter Guillam [Cumberbatch], using him as a right-hand go to and information runner. Whilst quietly investigating the matter, Smiley looks back on key moments with his colleagues, hoping for some obvious tell that may indicate who was turned.

Being Tomas Alfredson’s first English film, the whole thing is a joy to behold. The cinematography is staggeringly beautiful, evoking a plausibly dank seventies London, whilst lending a physicality to the paranoia and insecurities within each of the characters. Speaking of characters, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is populated by a stunning cast but as the majority were simply in minor supporting roles, they felt largely wasted. Furthermore, their presence became a complete distraction, as if the entire plot-thread screeched to a halt as I muttered, “Oh, [insert British actor] is in this too!?” to anyone in earshot. Add to that glorious attention to detail without head-butting audiences with nods to the 70s that really submerge the engrossing story into a wholly believable environment. Outside of the visuals, the post war themes of paranoia, class divides and corruption – themes long since absent from cinema – make a welcome return without stifling the plot too much.

But despite nailing these key elements, a genuine sense of tension seems to have been neglected, leaving the plot to stagger around before stumbling over the finishing line. I think a great deal of that has to do with the shocking pacing and frankly disorientating editing. Don’t misunderstand me, though, I’m not talking about the multiple flashbacks, more the seemingly random decisions made with the narrative structure. In all honesty, the entire project reminds me of The Constant Gardner, not only because of the le Carre links but also for the fact that it was a well-written political drama, rife with key performances and critical praise that failed to really find an audience and several years on, feels a distant memory for most.

I agree wholeheartedly that this is an exceptional release and a beautifully crafted movie filled with deep, meaningful performances but I honestly couldn’t say I was particularly immersed or completely enjoyed it. Like certain works of art, one can appreciate them without truly liking them – a phrase I usually reserve for horrific plot subjects (Requiem For A Dream, Irreversible and Eraserhead to name but a few). No doubt it’ll receive showers of praise but ultimately I feel.. not so much disappointed, more underwhelmed. With a stronger sense of foreboding tension and actual urgency, I could have enjoyed the narrative more but as it stands, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is just a housing for a cluster of brilliant performances.

Release Date:
16th September 2011

The Scene To Look Out For:
Without a doubt, the key moment in the film, is Oldman’s recollection of his only time spent with the head of Russian intelligence, Karla. Midway through reciting a memory, Smiley completely forgets that Ricky is even in the room and begins re-enacting the entire conversation. As simple as it may be, the entire thing was enthralling.

Notable Characters:
Oldman offers a rather uncharacteristic and very subdued performance, from an actor we usually associate with a great deal of shouting and intensity. But no matter how good is performance is (and it is astonishingly good), he will always be compared to Alec Guinness and I personally don’t think his presence can be bettered. Then there’s the surprising treat that is Cumberbatch, a man who channels and embodies the sheer pride of what he does and the crippling fear of being caught.

Highlighted Quote:
“I don’t know about you, George but I feel thoroughly under-fucked”

In A Few Words:
“A masterfully constructed technical film with praiseworthy performances, sorely let down by a lack of vision, narrative direction and muddled pacing”

Total Score: