“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”
Whenever I see Gary Oldman on screen, he always looks as though he’s seriously considering ripping the head off whoever he’s conversing with, whether it be an interviewer or a co-star. As George Smiley, in Tomas Alfredson’s version of John Le Carre’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”, we see none of that from him; Smiley is mild-mannered, bowed by personal unhappiness and quietly revivified by the mission he’s been given - to root out a mole at the heart of the Secret Service. It’s a real shock when, at a crucial point, a gun appears in his hand - the fact that the pistol is taken from a plastic office folder rather than a shoulder-holster signifies that we are in the world of real-life espionage, so the violence is sporadic, the action consisting largely of grey men conversing in brown rooms. So why is this film more gripping than any thriller I’ve seen in recent years? Largely because of the performances – the likes of Oldman, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Kathy Burke (a welcome return), and Mark Strong providing a masterclass in subtle, subtext-heavy screen acting. Alfredson keeps things moving along, with lost of fast cutting between scenes where apparently nothing is happening; although he’s not afraid of a long, lingering take when necessary. The plot is a basic whodunit – the whys and hows are largely left to the viewer to determine, and we’re given time to ponder, whilst being constantly intrigued. Never having read the book, and with vague, confused memories of the television adaptation, my expectations were muted; it is, however, an understated masterpiece.