Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Once-in-a generation film classic - Patrick McLaren

10 Points

Viewer Rating:Patrick McLaren has rated Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy rating: 5 Star

It is now a generation since the fall of the Berlin Wall and many young people today have no personal experience of what it was like to live under the shadow of the Cold War. Looking back, it may seem like a time when nothing much really happened as compared, say, with the first half of the twentieth century. Quite a lot went on then - two world wars mainly. That there was not a third is due largely to the forgotten men - and they were mostly men - who for decades fought a hidden conflict behind the scenes, while leaving the rest of us to get on with our lives. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy tells their story, perhaps the first film to really do justice to such a murky period in recent history.

Swedish director Tomas Alfredson choreographs his stellar cast through their intricate manoeuvres with a flair that recalls Coppolla in his heyday. And what a cast. The frontline team of Oldman, Firth, and Hurt are supported by a fine array of players that includes Benedict Cumerbatch, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy and Kathy Burke. Comparisons are invidious, but the second row really put it up to their more distinguished colleagues in terms of sheer quality of performance. One can imagine an entire movie being built around Hardy's character, for instance, such is the depth of his portrayal. Burke is a revelation in her one big scene for anyone who knows her only from her work with Harry Enfield. Benedict Cumberbatch enhances his reputation further with his well-rounded portrayal of the closest thing to a James Bond in the movie. But of these four, it is Mark Strong who leaves the most lasting impression as the 'everyman' spy who quietly does his duty to the very end.

That leaves the heavyweights. Hurt is reliable as ever in his portrayal of the tired Control trying to save his 'circus'. Firth plays against type as the seedy playboy for whom the Cold war is almost a game. Then there is Gary Oldman, who for many years seemed to have been first choice when a director needed someone to play a psychopath who shouts a lot. Batman Begins showed us he could do 'normal'. Now, he is revealed as the magnificently nuanced actor he always was. Oldman as Smiley is the calm centre to the storm swirling around him. He hardly speaks at all for the first twenty minutes. He barely raises his voice for the remainder of the film. Yet he acts everyone else off the screen. He has to be a cert for Best Actor Oscar.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy echoes those gritty sixties espionage thrillers, like The Ipcress File, that showed us a more realistic and mundane alternative to 007. But it is in a class of its own. The recreation of its seventies milieu is meticulous, bad hairstyles, awful fashion, big spectacles included. Alberto Iglesias' jazzy score completes the atmosphere. But this is Alfredson's movie. He has managed the very difficult feat of making this viewer forget the classic eighties TV adaptation starring Alec Guinness. He was created a work of art that transcends its genre and demonstrates how amazing mainstream cinema can occasionally be.

Review published on the 17 September 2011 19:11


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