TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Tomas Alfredson)
In terms of espionage fiction, two names stand out: Robert Ludlum and John Le Carre. Ludlum became famous to non-followers because of the Bourne series, whereas Le Carre made his mark as a much more sophisticated storyteller (my opinion). So far, the films adapted from his novels that I have seen, THE CONSTANT GARDENER and THE RUSSIA HOUSE were pretty solid suspense-drama (I have yet to see THE SPY WHO CAME IN THE COLD, and am currently reading A MOST WANTED MAN). However, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY proves the most stylistic film adaptation, and an advantage it has is director Tomas Alfredson, who has already showcased subtlety in narration with the Swedish vampire chiller LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.
Gary Oldman is by all means exhibiting restraint as George Smiley, the story's protagonist tasked with uncovering the mole in British Intelligence secretly leaking classified information to the Russians. Said restraint is rather befitting, since it compliments his character's years of experience, wisdom, and talent.
The story unfolds in slow, detailed manner (though I have heard that the novel is much more meatier, and it should be) where we follow Smiley's investigation, and witness his somber journey not only as a master spy, but also as a human being-the late nights spent on research and surveillance, the lack of social life, and the departure of excitement. You can actually see it in Smiley's eyes, the lack of enthusiasm. He performs the job more as a duty, and I don't know if this is a coincidence, but for a man named Smiley, I have never seen him smile onscreen. A faint smile maybe, but never a full one, nor a grin.
The title pertains to code names given by Control (a powerful performance by John Hurt as always) as to who could have been the mole inside British Intelligence: Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) is "Tinker", Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) is "Tailor", Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) is "Soldier", Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) is "Poorman", whereas Smiley himself is "Spy/Beggarman". Everyone gives a controlled but riveting performance, special mention to Firth who has never been this exciting since A SINGLE MAN, yet I have regrets concerning Ciaran Hinds' character who should have been given more speaking lines given that Hinds is a very talented actor.
In supporting roles, Mark Strong (as the doomed field agent Jim Prideaux), Tom Hardy (as almost doomed field agent Ricki Tarr), and Benedict Cumberbatch (as Smiley's number two Peter Guillam) all give equal, convincing performances.
What's mesmerizing about TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY is the way the filmmakers captured the feel, look, and paranoia of the 70s. From the hair and costume of the actors, to the buildings, to the wallpapers, everything feels authentic, or rather nostalgic (not that I was born in the 70s, but the attention to detail is too believable to be inaccurate).
In a way, the story takes a humanistic approach in the way it emphasizes the fate of its characters, especially those who were pawns in a game. I have to admit that Alfredson's storytelling here, from a script by Brdiget O'Connor and Peter Straughan wasn't exactly easy to digest and follow, especially for me who hasn't read the book yet. I had to consult online reviews for the full plot of the film, yet upon watching I had a grasp of the film's basic story arc. Of particular merit is the part in the film where it was hinted that it could be all of them (Alleline, Haydon, Bland, and Esterhase) who are traitors to their country, yet the story pushes that the mole is only acting alone, without the knowledge of the others (so it really is a guessing game for you if you haven't read the book).
Solidly crafted, compelling, and a testament to how spy thrillers ought be made, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY deserves a second viewing, if only to savor the subtle but biting third act, where all secrets are revealed.