Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

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When a new adaptation of John le Carré’s quintessential tale of Cold War espionage was fist announced, the great worry was that Hollywood wouldn’t be able to resist giving Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a Mission: Impossible makeover— ruining an intelligent, character-driven thriller with the superfluous addition of silly gadgets, explosions, and sexy people doing sexy things. The appointment of Tomas Alfredson at the helm, however, allowed hope of a rather more faithful treatment of the revered source material.

The Swedish director caught the cinematic world’s attention in 2008 with Let The Right One In, the bizarre and muted tale of adolescent friendship and love that just happened to involve a vampire. Noteworthy for its assured delicacy (in contrast to the ill-conceived American remake by Matt “Cloverfield” Reeves), it unveiled a most promising directorial talent. With a demonstrated knack for deft and subtle storytelling, he seemed an ideal candidate to infuse Tinker Tailor’s labyrinthine plot with real momentum and suspense without resorting to cheap bombastics. And when casting news revealed that Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch and Toby Jones would form the formidable cast, initial worry was replaced with outright excitement.

Tinker Tailor’s simplified thrust is this: Events reveal a Soviet mole within the upmost echelon’s of Britain’s intelligence service. Recently exiled Cold War espionage veteran George Smiley (Oldman) is brought out of imposed retirement to uncover just which of his former colleagues is dealing secrets to the enemy. It’s classic spy story stuff—clichéd even. What places it apart, however, is the authenticity of its world and characters.  This is no James Bond-ian tale of glamour, danger and magical technology. It is cold and grim and decidedly lo-fi. It’s also a joy to watch.

Alfredson’s film is an aesthetic triumph, bringing drab 60s Cold War Britain to life in painstaking detail. In direction and performance the film is typified by an elegant restraint befitting of the era. Alfredson prefers pure, unadorned storytelling to grand gesture, and his composed approach injects the film with a greater sense of romance than theatrics ever could. He also trusts the intelligence of his audience—something too rarely seen in mainstream cinema.

I’ve heard spoken that the film lacks humanity, a view perhaps born of the coldness by which hardened lonely men engage in constant machinations against one another. I wholeheartedly disagree with the view. Personal tragedy, ethos, love and history motivate every action in Alfredson’s grey-ed out world and Tinker Tailor Solidier Spy is outstanding precisely because of the degree to which humanity is allowed into a genre that all too often dominated by technological exactness. Satisfyingly complex, believably imperfect and impeccably acted, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy warrants a worthy 4 out of 5.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is now showing in selected cinemas.

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