Bleaker than snow in this Cold War thriller that more than lives up to its timeless source material.
Bleaker than snow in this Cold War thriller that more
than lives up to its timeless source material.
‘They don’t make
them like they used to’ is a term thrown around all too readily by film critics
and fans alike. We all long for
those days of classics, films that live in the memory with a nostalgic glow
like a childhood memory of a summer’s evening. Of course the truth is that rarely is a film a ‘classic’
upon first viewing, it often has to percolate through the brain to filter all
the key ingredients before it takes on the mantle of ‘Classic’. There are of course exceptions, films
that when you see them once you just know they’re going to live on in your
memory and find a place in the pantheon of cinema. We’re talking The
Godfather (1972), Jaws (1975), Casablanca (1942) and Se7en (1995). You can now add to that list Tinker Tailor Solider Spy a
film that was intentionally made like they used to make them and is all the
more breathtaking as a result.
When his mentor
Control (John Hurt) suspects a mole
within the secret intelligence known as The Circus semi-retired spy George
Smiley (Gary Oldman) is brought back
into the fold to unearth the double agent selling secrets to the Russians. Among the suspects are Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) and Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds). Holding the key to this secret are two
spies who have both been burned as a result of the counter intelligence, Jim
Prideaux (Mark Strong) and Ricki
Tarr (Tom Hardy). With their help and aided by man on the
inside Peter Guillam (Benedict
Cumberbatch) Smiley will use every trick in the book to find the man who
has broken so many people’s trust.
Based on John Le
Carre’s, a former spy for MI5 himself, best selling novel this adaptation uses
its 70s setting to hark back to a by gone era of espionage. It is the kind of film Bond films like
From Russia With Love (1963) always intended to be before becoming distracted
and convoluted by gadgets and over the top action. This is not Bond though, this is spying the way Le Carre
knew it. Middle aged men sitting
in soundproofed offices sipping tea and trading assets, be they secrets or
people who have served their purpose, to gain the upper hand in a deeply
thrilling game of cat and mouse.
The film unfolds
at a wonderfully engaging pace.
The clues slowly drip fed through a plethora of character development
that becomes all too crucial in solving the mystery. This is office politics but on a potentially nuclear
fall-out level. Think TV’s the
office but instead of Tim stealing Gareth’s staple you have been vying to be top
dog where a casual slip of the tongue can reveal you to be more than a loyal
servant to crown and country.
Secrets are traded like commodities on the stock exchange, shallow
promises made and lies offered without so much as a tremble of consciousness. The men who inhabit this world are
prize-fighters of intrigue and deception and all want to be top of the pyramid
to rule over the others.
Adding to this
murky sea of counter-intelligence is Let The Right One In’s (2008) Tomas
Alfredson’s wonderful direction. Like
his urban vampire thriller he brings a sense of cold mist to proceedings. A physical manifestation of the Cold
War the film is set in. The 1970s
setting is rendered to perfection through practical, rather than flashy
computer, set design and lighting.
This is filmmaking as it should be, no gimmicks everything stripped back
the way Smiley goes about his investigation. In fact Alfredson resorts to such things as back-projection,
moody natural lighting akin to The Godfather and in doing so ups the ambience
to immersive levels.
As if the plot
and look of the film weren’t enough to draw you into this fascinating world the
film is littered, indeed positively brimming, with the cream of British acting
talent all being wonderfully dapper.
The usual suspects, aka Colin Firth, Toby Jones, David Dencik and Ciran
Hinds all bring a wonderful sense of ambiguity to who is the real mole. Even as one seems to be labeling
himself as the culprit another will flick an eyebrow or take a prolonged sip on
his tea to throw you off the sent.
Cumberbatch, sky rocketing to stardom thanks to TV’s Sherlock, brings a hardened edge to his
normally foppish demeanor. Meanwhile
Mark Strong and Tom Hardy inject a real emotional punch as two spies so damaged
and jaded by the lives they have led it is hard to see either finding true
happiness. Suffice to say they are
both endlessly watchable screen presence and Hardy in particular demonstrating
why he is such hot property right now.
However, the film belongs to Gary Oldman. For years pigeon holed by Hollywood as the go to villain,
now in middle age he finds an inner strength that permeates through everything
Smiley does. He may be broken and
damaged by the spy game, jaded by the wife who left him but you never doubt he
will catch his man. It’s the
steely determination behind those bottle-top glasses that makes Oldman’s role
powerful and delicate all at once.
Soldier Spy is everything you want from a film and more. It’s powerful in its emotions,
fascinating in its characters and endlessly engaging in its plot. Beautifully acted and directed this is
a film you will be recommending to anyone who will listen for a long time to
come. If only some politicians
could see the stunning output of cinematic talent the UK has to offer we
wouldn’t need to rely on people like George Smiley to clean up their mess.