DVD Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
A revered spy novel classic, the cream of British acting talent, and a director firmly on-the-up combine to Oscar nominated success – and provide 2012 with the first spy DVD that truly uncovers thrilling cinema.
Set shortly after the infamous Watergate scandal, this captivating tale of deception encapsulates the period of escalated fear that gripped Cold War Britain. Veteran MI6 agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is compelled from semi-retirement when a bungled assignment in Budapest and the death of Control (the head of the agency, affectionately known as the Circus) leads to suspicions that dangerous transgressions are afoot within this highly surreptitious government organisation.
Smiley is assigned to a mission of the utmost consequence: to uncover the identity of the mole working at the very top level of the Circus. This traitor has been feeding vital information of the highest secrecy to the KGB for years, jeopardising the furtive work of these government agents and the security of the nation.
Along with his small team he’s assembled to solve this vitally important matter of national interest, Smiley inevitably begins to delve deeper into a well of espionage and deceit. What, at first, begins as a tense but calculated investigation soon transpires into a minefield of betrayal and high stakes cat and mouse style risk…
Having already been developed into an Alec Guinness headed BBC miniseries (appropriate, as the material is distinctively British), Le Carre’s original novel, following the labyrinthine investigation of a possible mole in the upper echelon of the Secret Intelligent Service, has now been condensed into a feature film with a who’s-who of UK character actors, including Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth and Toby Jones, who, along with Oldman, combine to make up the title of this classy adaptation.
This is a rigidly, nearly dogmatically directed film – and a real achievement in un-pretentious artfulness. Director Tomas Alfredson exercises some of the finest control of composition and colour in a universe of ‘pale’ – pale beige, pale grey, pale grey-green and equally pale faces. His frames are strict, taut and mathematical, not unlike the game of high-stakes chess George Smiley is playing against his KGB opponent, the mole in MI6, and, brilliantly, his own unstated ambitions.
Machismo driven but eloquently reserved gameplay proliferates wonderfully in the film, both within and without. Control scotch-tapes photos of his inner circle of spies to chess pieces in his efforts to decipher who was the mole; Alfredson seems to enjoy moving them all around the board just as much as Control. As for Smiley, he’s the best player of the lot, in that we only realise the scope of the game he was playing once he sits triumphantly in checkmate.
Alfredson keeps a firm leash on his cast so that he can deploy their prowess at the deftly appropriate moment.
Alfredson keeps a firm leash on his cast so that he can deploy their prowess at the deftly appropriate moment and not a second before. A conversation takes place around halfway through the picture between Smiley and Peter Guillam, his investigative partner, in which Smiley tells a story that is significant both professionally and personally, which comes off like a hard clock to the jaw after all the subtler noodling-about that has taken place up to this point. Undoubtedly, the precision pacing of Alfredson can be directly attributed to the rise in dramatic tension, but it is the manner in which the talent deliver their well-written lines that proves most captivating.
Jones, in particular, stands out as Alleline, playing a character accustomed to such drama and deceptiveness that countless actors would surely be on their knees to play. He’s the snake in the grass; giving the impression he’ll strike at any moment, and Jones terrifically takes advantage of the opportunity. Also standing out is Tom Hardy as the mystery’s lynchpin character, Ricki Tarr, an agent who’s seen his name dragged through the mud as a result of what he’s seen and what he knows.
Hardy’s is probably the only performance in the film that hews ever so closely to the performance of his predecessor in the ’79 miniseries. Unfortunately for Hardy, the expanded running time of the BBC version gave Hywel Bennett much more scenery to chew up, and yet Hardy’s portion of the story is still the most compelling.
With these subplots, strong performances and spotless technical craft, the movie produces a series of gorgeous puzzle pieces. While they do fit together fine on a story level, the sum of the plot doesn’t quite match its parts – the literal story may be incidental compared to the characters, but it takes up a lot of screen time, while also managing to give several of its chief suspects the short shrift.
The DVD version of this current release contains a rather muted commentary from Oldman and Alfredson that echo’s the initial pacing of the film but fails to deliver any insightful additions. Along with this commentary comes a number of deleted scenes that, devoid of context, again fail to enlighten – and would not be called upon to add to the selling points of this release.
Slick and graceful, the film has an almost musical sweep. The camera is virtually never at rest, which, unfortunately, feels slightly amiss to the point where the final revelation comes too soon. However, unlike many contemporary spy outings, the film isn’t about a thousand twists and turns or keeping you on the edge of your seat waiting for a bloody showdown.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy doesn’t so much keep you guessing as it tightens the coil slowly and methodically. This is a thinking person’s espionage marathon that rewards both patience and attention to detail.
See The Film For Yourself!
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