Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Based on the novel by John Le Carre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the story of a former spy who is asked to find a Soviet double-agent that is rumored to be a top official in the British secret service. Directed by Tomas Alfredson and screenplay by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughn, the film explores the world of espionage and intrigue as it revolves a retired spy who is forced to uncover dark secrets that involves the people he used to work for. Starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Ciaran Hinds. Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy is an engrossing yet intriguing film from Tomas Alfredson.

After British intelligence sends agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Hungary where he was shot and captured, the ailing intelligence head Control (John Hurt) is forced to retire as he asks his right-hand man George Smiley (Gary Oldman) to investigate a claim by agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) about a mole in British Intelligence. With Tarr in hiding, Smiley takes charge of the investigation as he brings in officer Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) to aid him where they suspect about the Witchcraft project that is led by new head Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) that also includes deputy Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), and senior officials Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik).

With Alleine taking control of the MI6 and getting rid of various personnel, Smiley meets Connie Sachs (Kathy Burke) who reveals that she was sacked for finding out about a mole-handler named Polyakov (Konstantin Khabensky). Another former employee in Jerry Westerby (Stephen Graham) reveals to Smiley some more information about what happened to Prideaux as Smiley believes that a top official could be the mole. Coming home from work, Smiley finds Tarr at his house hiding as Tarr reveals his story about what happened to him in Istanbul. Tarr met an operative named Irina (Svetlana Khodchenkova) whom he fell for as they traded information as she was the one who revealed about the mole in the MI6 before being captured. Tarr was forced to flee after finding a British agent dead as he’s been accused of murder as he remains in hiding.

After Guillam is asked to fetch Tarr’s reports to confirm what Tarr had said, Guillam and Smiley make a discovery that someone knows about Tarr’s time in Istanbul. After learning about more about what happened to Prideaux and what he was trying to find for Control, Smiley goes further to find out what Alleine, Haydon, Bland, and Esterhase have been giving to Polyakov as one of them has been giving away something more than just information. There, Smiley makes a move to have the mole to be revealed.

What happens when a retired spy has to uncover dark secrets that involves espionage that would threaten the livelihood of the British Intelligence Agency? That's what the film is simply about as it explores the world of corruption and men's desire to create a new world order in the 1970s during the Cold War. Yet, it would take a man like George Smiley to realize that what they're doing isn't just wrong but immoral about the way spy games work. Seeing people he knew for many years being dismissed like that because they know something is wrong forces him to make some moves with old friends including a spy who is on the run for uncovering the truth.

The screenplay does play to the schematics of a suspense story yet a lot of the narrative does shift back and forth as it revolves around Smiley’s memories and the events that transpire throughout the course of the film. The story opens with Prideaux’s capture as it would be among the moments that keeps coming back along with Smiley’s memories of more simpler times when Control was in charge. During these flashbacks, Smiley would force to look back at things that would raise his suspicions as he later realizes that something was up. Even as it would involve meeting people like those who were dismissed or someone like Ricki Tarr as they would reveal to Smiley things that would eventually confirm his own suspicions.

Tomas Alfredson’s direction is very entrancing in the way he frames his actors and set-up the moments of suspense that occurs throughout. His attention to detail in the film’s opening scene that involves Prideaux that would led to his capture is among one of these key moments of suspense. The rest of the film takes a much more low-key approach in order to uncover everything that is happening as Alfredson creates a world that is set in the early 1970s where the Cold War is already happening and Smiley feels out of step with the times. It’s to establish that a new world order is happening where men like Smiley are just obsolete while these new lions take over and keep the Cold War happening yet it’s the mole that is creating all of these complications that is going on.

Set mostly in London with some parts of the film set in Paris, Istanbul, and Hungary, it’s definitely a film about international intrigue as Alfredson is trying to figure out who is the mole. Notably the sequence that involves Ricki Tarr in Istanbul where the compositions have an air of style as it reflects Tarr’s desire to lead a life out of the world of spy games. The film’s third act where Smiley gets closer to finding out who the mole is has him doing things where he will confront someone in a very unique way in order to get answers. There’s no violence involve but rather just play it cool and create a situation where that person eventually breaks down. Overall, Alfredson crafts a very solid and engaging suspense film that works to play out its sense of mystery.

Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema does brilliant work with the film‘s stylish photography to play out the drab look of London in its exteriors along with lush lighting schemes for the interior. Editor Dino Jonsater does excellent work with the editing to create stylish cuts to help shift the narrative around along with some methodical cuts to play out the suspense. Production designer Maria Djurkovic, along with set decorator Tatiana MacDonald and art directors Tom Brown and Mark Raggett, does superb work with the set pieces such as the meeting room where the British intelligence supervisors meet along with the offices and homes that the characters live and work at.

Costume designer Jacqueline Durran does terrific work with the costumes from the suits the men wear to the more casual 70s clothing the younger characters wear. Hair and makeup designer Felicity Bowring does nice work in creating looks for the characters to create the feel of the 1970s. Sound editors Stephen Griffiths and Andy Shelley do some fine work with the sound to capture the intimacy of the meetings as well as the chaos in some of the film‘s thrilling moments. The film’s music by Alberto Iglesias is amazing for its orchestral-driven score filled with slow, heavy themes to play out the drama and suspense. Music supervisor Nick Angel creates a very good soundtrack that features a few music pieces from the 70s including a rhythmic cover of La Mer by Julio Iglesias.

The casting by Jina Jay is marvelous for the ensemble that is assembled for this film. Among those making small appearances include Christian Makay as an agent in Paris, Roger Lloyd-Pack as a friend of Smiley, Stephen Graham and Kathy Burke as two dismissed staff members of the agency, Simon McBurney as official Oliver Lacon, Konstantin Khabensky as the mysterious Polyakov, Svetlana Khodchenkova as the Soviet operative Irina that Tarr falls for, and John Hurt in a small but crucial role as former MI6 head Control. Toby Jones is excellent as the very aggressive Intelligence head Percy Alleline while Ciaran Hinds is very good as the more low-key official Roy Bland. David Dencik is terrific as the very snaky and secretive Toby Esterhase who tries to be low-key only to have Smiley target him.

Benedict Cumberbatch is wonderful as Smiley’s aide Peter Guillam who gets a hands-on experience into the world of corruption and espionage. Colin Firth is superb as the very low-key yet calm official who is part of the cover-up. Tom Hardy is amazing as the agent Ricky Tarr who was the one to discover the idea of the mole as he deals with the conflict of being an agent. Mark Strong is brilliant in a small yet crucial role as the agent Jim Prideaux who is sent to find the identity of the mole early in the film as he is unaware of the dangers he’s facing. Finally, there’s Gary Oldman in an incredible performance as George Smiley. Oldman creates a performance that is very entrancing as a man who feels lost in these new times as he has to uncover a mystery and reveal the mole that is destroying the British Intelligence.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a rich yet captivating film from Tomas Alfredson that features a remarkable performance from Gary Oldman. Along with a cast that includes Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, John Hurt, and Tom Hardy. It’s a film that weaves it way to uncover the mystery as it is presented with great care for the audience to be engaged by and figure out what is going on. In the end, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a brilliant film from Tomas Alfredson.

Tomas Alfredson Films: (Bert: The Last Virgin) - (Screwed in Tallinn) - (Office Hours) - (Four Shades of Brown) - Let the Right One In

© thevoid99 2012


Anonymous said...

Definitely one of those films you have to stay on top of the whole time, or else you just get lost in all of the hustle and bustle. Thankfully, I didn't but I still think there needed to be more time dedicated to this story, the clues, and the characters themselves. Good review Steve.

Diana said...

Great review Steve, I loved it, too! I do agree with DTMMR, it did need more time on some its characters and clues, but besides that, everything was wonderful, one of the best of last year!

thevoid99 said...

@Dan-It's a mystery that is engaging as it takes it time to figure out what is going on. Plus, it lets the audience be involved a bit.

@Diana-It's a better film than I thought it would be. Gary Oldman definitely deserved the Oscar nod.