DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) dir. Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch


By Alan Bacchus

Despite being completely dumbfounded by the murky-to-the-point-of-nauseating narrative obscurity of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the film stayed with me, lingering for weeks like an itch I couldn’t scratch before I was compelled to see it again. Tinker Tailor is kind of addictive – a puzzle likely never to be solved, but so utterly compelling we don’t need to understand everything.

Alfredson’s long lenses, which subliminally make us feel like we’re silently looking over the shoulders of his characters, allow him to feel the delicateness of all the proceedings. The Cold War spy games in this case mean finding a mole that may or may not be placed at the top of the British intelligence community – specifically the 'Circus', a subcommittee of nervous British spies headed by a very anxious man named Control (John Hurt).

Alfredson effortlessly moves us back and forth in time, to the point of complete temporal confusion. And by adding the possibility of tactics of counter-intelligence, that is false information planted by competing spies to sniff out double-agents, the machinations becomes dizzying.

The performances of the characters are so compelling, even though we may not get the details (or the big picture), the emotional stakes are real. Mark Strong, for instance, who seems to be playing the heavy in every picture these days, is given a very tender role and a relationship with another character that may or may not be homosexual. Same with the remarkable Benedict Cumberbatch, who, while committing everything to the cause of finding the mole, is forced to give up something so vital to life, and it’s devastating to watch.

Gary Oldman glues all these great actors together without doing much other than holding his poker face and staying calm. His ability to keep his emotions out of the conflict results in a performance that is icy cold but heroic at the same time.

The editing of this picture is also remarkable. Dino Jonsater assembles Alfredson’s luscious imagery like one slow-moving montage scene. Jonsater is bold enough to cut an entire scene with one slow reaction shot of a character turning around and gazing curiously into the eyes of another.

This is the palette of the picture – snippets of glances, words, whispers and scenes, glimpses of the parts, never the whole, but with the main hero, George Smiley (Oldman), always a step ahead of the audience. I understand the conscious obscurity of the plotting will turn people off, but Tinker Tailor triumphs for its ability to create emotion and feeling from its profound themes of brotherhood and betrayal.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is available on Blu-ray from EOne Home Entertainment in Canada. For admirers of the film who were confused as hell, commentary from Alfredson and Oldman provides good insight into some of the vague and confounding plotting elements.

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