“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”: Oldman gets taught new tricks

Bereft of the guns, girls and glamour so ingrained in us by the James Bond franchise, a realistic portrayal of spy life is not an easy task. A thriller that is, in reality, more akin to an episode of Inspector Morse than Mission Impossible is the hardest sell of all. But the new version of John le Carre’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is a welcome addition to the genre, feeling decidedly more cinematic than something you’d watch with a tray of sausage and mash on your knees.

I needn’t give much of a synopsis, since it has already been well-reported by almost every media outlet in the country, not to mention that this is a film that lives and dies by its dark, complex plot.

The central character is George Smiley, a semi-retired agent who’s reinstated in order to investigate the allegations of a mole being present in the “Circus.” This isn’t a Daniel Day-Lewis role – no points for gyrations – and it is played with remarkable restraint and subtlety by Gary Oldman. It’s an entirely selfless piece of acting, providing the dense plot with a much-needed calm anchor amidst a sausage-fest of British acting talent: the customary Colin Firth, the fascinating-to-look-at Toby Jones, the out-of-his-depth Benedict Cumberbatch, and the time-honoured Tom Hardy. And yet despite allowing this ample cast all the time in the world to steal the limelight with their more animated turns, Oldman brings a sense of hidden danger and tightly repressed rage to George Smiley that is effortlessly understated.

It’s a film that’s bathed in nuance; a slight turn of the head can reveal just as much, if not more than the most violent outbreak of any character. The direction of Tomas Alfredson embodies a seemingly detached nature that truly befits the film’s subject matter whilst simultaneously injecting his own unique brand of Swedish melancholia. This, combined with a measured pace and artistically drab cinematography, creates an auditory as much as a visual experience, echoing the shadowy, paranoia-steeped world of the Cold War. “Silence means security” couldn’t be any more appropriate.

Needless to say, the target demographic here is not fans of the Bourne Trilogy, as I did hear many grunts of dissatisfaction at the end of the film by people sitting nearby. But I suspect the wearisome individuals who left the cinema saying, “Now there’s 127 minutes of my life I’ll never get back” are probably just secretly happy to be 127 minutes closer to death.

I must confess that I was a little disappointed by the ending, too. You see, the screenplay is an icy core for which the director and actors must take hours to chip away at, but the limp resolve felt all too predictable. Despite the worthy attempt, I couldn’t help but feel that at its heart something was missing. Maybe that’s just it – heart. With an ensemble cast, but only two hours at his disposal, Tomas Alfredson had to sacrifice persona for plot, disappointingly depriving us of seeing the true capabilities of an otherwise impressive line-up. It was an inevitable frustration.

I intended to end this review with a quip along the lines of, “… but then I’d have to kill you,” but I can’t think of any suitable way for this to work.


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