Tinker Tailor Solider Spy (Tomas Alfredson, 2011)

What's it about? 1970s London during the Cold War. Disgraced spy George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is brought out of forced retirement by Control (John Hurt) to uncover a Russian mole who has infiltrated the highest echelons of British Secret Intelligence. It could be smug Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), slick Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), slippery Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) or bluff Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds). But Smiley himself is also a suspect and how exactly do the activities of Peter Guillam (Bendict Cumberbatch), Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) and Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) fit into all of this? Espionage ensues.

Is it any good? If you like your spies to be all-action heroes like James Bond and Jason Bourne, you better look elsewhere. The spies of this film are emotionally repressed, duplicitous, lonely men who inhabit a grey, smoke-filled world of dreary offices, files and subterfuge. Glamourous, it ain't. Similarly, if you like your plots spoon-fed to you in easily digestible chunks, you'd better think about defecting to some other film. This film expects you to pay attention, read between the lines and generally think about things to understand what's going on. And even then, if you're not familiar with the story, you might still end up wondering who-knew-what-when. However, it is intelligently adapted from the densely plotted novel and Alfredson has assembled the film beautifully and precisely, layering it with a melancholic, almost miserable mood, which suits the material perfectly. He also does particuarly well to convey the wheels turning in Smiley's head as he investigates. All the actors are excellent, although Mark Strong stands out, even in a film where no-one puts a foot wrong.
"I'm the best in this film!"
My main reservation comes with the finale. If we consider the dialogue of this thriller to be the 'action', then the final revelatory scenes with the mole should be the climactic explosion setpiece, in which the depth of his betrayal and the deviousness of the spy games are revealed. Instead we get the verbal equivalent of a damp squib, in which we know 'who', but would much rather know more details about the 'how' and the 'why'. Some may argue this is in keeping with the subtleness and quiet mood of the rest of the film, but there was enough material in the source novel to make that ending a more devastating and emotional pay-off. Without that emotional climax, the film becomes one that's easy to admire, but hard to love.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Critics have gone bananas for it, showering it with plaudits and five-stars like confetti. Fans of the book are delighted that the film not only does it justice, but can also sit proudly alongside the much-revered BBC mini-series as an equally impressive take on the source material. Audiences, though, have been less enamoured, presumably put off by reports about the difficult plotting, the slow pace and the substitution of car-chases for meaningful glances across a room. At the weekend evening showing I attended, there were a total of 5 (five) people in the screening (which was great - I'd go to the cinema a lot more often if that were the case). With all the chat of pacing and timing of this movie, it seems that for many punters the precise and intricately assembled clockwork machinery of this film is still not as appealing as flashier, modern, digital pieces.

Anything else I should know? John le Carré's real name is David Cornwell and he worked for MI5 and MI6 in the 50s and 60s, based in Berlin. His cover was blown by the Cambridge Five affair, and the unmasking of Kim Philby as a double agent for the Russians. With his intelligence career ended, Le Carré turned to writing and exacted a type of revenge by effectively casting Philby as the mole in Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. Look out for his cameo in the flashback party scenes in the film. More recently, British PM David Cameron revealed the KGB had attempted to recruit him in his youth. He refused, of course. Or did he.....?

What does the Fonz think? The Spy Who Came in For The Mole. Classy, but cold.

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