Wednesday, 28 September 2011

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2011) - 3 STARS

"The secret is out"


After all the explosive blockbusters I've watched in recent months, it made a nice change to watch something a little different but also a film to make me think. Tomas Alfredson's film adaptation of TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, the popular BBC series from the 70's which starred Alec Guinness in the leading role, looked promising enough with a stunning British cast including the likes of Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy and John Hurt plus a great production team that did its job effectively when it came to the likes of editing and cinematography. However a slow-moving story with so much going on took away that potential and left me somewhat underwhelmed and a little surprised by the excellent reviews from other critics....


Set in the early 1970s, the film centers on an unknown sector of the British Intelligence service led by the unusually named Control (John Hurt). He ends up being ousted along with his long-standing companion George Smiley (Gary Oldman) due to an operation in Budapest which goes wrong leading to assassin Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) being murdered in public. Control is under the impression that there is a mole among the top ranking members of the service, referred to as the Circus by the other members due to its location in Cambridge Circus and Smiley is drawn out of retirement to find the culprit after Control passes away. Alongside the young Intelligence officer Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), Smiley has various primary candidates from the Circus to focus his investigation on including Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) and Percy Alleline (Toby Jones). The investigation provides many twists and turns as Smiley's determination to uncover the truth also sees him gain support from undercover man Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) who having been romantically involved with the wife of a Russian intelligence officer in Turkey, also finds key information that could unlock the truth. However whether the truth can be discovered or not proves crucial for Smiley who aims to finish his career with MI5 even by risking his reputation....


 To provide fairness, there is no denying that what Alfredson wanted to present was a intelligent film which was well received back in the 70s as a TV series and has done a satisfactory job with making it on the big screen. Every scene we watch here contains a small snippet of information which allows the viewer to conduct their own investigation alongside that of Smiley's. The production is bettered by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and editor Dino Jonsater's use of stylistic features that further enhance the viewing experience which include shallow focus shots that evoke the nature of mystery and intrigue. It's a film of tone and mood, of greys and browns. This is portraying 1970's grim Britain, and from the looks of it, it was a miserable and paranoid place to live. After the Harry Potter series ended earlier this year, it's great to see that a stellar British cast can still be assembled. And what a cast it is. The danger, obviously, is that with such talent on display, the film can feel over-populated. Oldman gives one of his best performance's as the semi-retired agent Smiley which is not a showy role by all means, as it demands subtlety from its actor. But that is exactly what Oldman gives to the role, and it's great to see him back to his best in terms of leading roles. Post-King's Speech and now Oscar winning actor Colin Firth shows snootiness in his role as one of the possible corrupted members with Jones and Hurt also lending experience to the project. It is the younger actors Cumberbatch and Hardy though who continue to contribute to their rising CV's in cinema with the former being able to balance the youth of the character with the responsibilities thrust upon him by the likes of Smiley while Hardy makes his presence half-way in the film and proves to be a scene-stealer when it comes to his entourage into the investigation. He's been a busy boy indeed with my next review looking at his other new release. One pleasant surprise amongst the cast is a comeback for Gimme, Gimme, Gimme actress Kathy Burke as a former secretary of the Circus in a small but notable cameo.


Now to the problems of the film which will no doubt put people off when it comes to sitting through its prolonged story. It jumps back and forward in time as the various characters tell their story, or Smiley finds another piece to the puzzle but this causes confusion for many including myself who just want to experience something that stands out instead of seeing Control being dead one minute and than seeing him alive the next. Yes the cast and production is quality but unfortunately as a film that tries to make me think, it doesn't really do that as you are left with so much going on. Most scenes tend to drag on for a while, yes even when Smiley gives his views on the investigation, you can't help but want some excitement to build up to something big. The opening scene of Prideaux's 'death' is built up stirringly well but after that, there is a severe lack of action that mostly relies on dialogue which will probably bore many audiences especially younger ones.

VERDICT: It's no Bond or Bourne by any means, and proves to be a slight disappointment with such an excellent cast and a well set-up production team. The awards attention devices me a little but as long as Oldman and the technical team get some notice, that's fine with me, but there are at least more 'intelligent' people than me who see this for what it is, as a clinical and gloomy thriller with a dark homage to 70s Britain.

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