January 15, 2012

To Catch a Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an excellent adaptation of John Le Carre's book about the Cold War. Gary Oldman gives a brilliantly restrained performance as George Smiley, a British Intelligence officer.  He is forced into retirement when his boss, Control (John Hurt) quits after a botched operation involving Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong)  in Hungary.  He is called back to service to catch a suspected Russian mole, based on information provided by disgraced agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy).   The traitor could be anyone of these senior agents: Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), Percy Alleline (Toby Jones).  Sherlock himself, Benedict Cumberbatch, is Peter Guillam, personally chosen by Smiley to assist him in this cat-and-mouse game.  This stellar ensemble alone makes Swedish director Tomas Alfredson's complex and intellectually stimulating film a must-see.

But it is Mr. Oldman's tour de force yet subdued performance as Smiley that makes the film compelling.  He captures every subtlety of a seasoned espionage veteran, who also happens to be personally worn down by his  life. He is a man of few words, carefully observing and putting things together in his mind.

The film's palette is muted, gray; the pace of the film slow; the tones hushed.  It all fits in with the cloak and dagger theme, and the methodical way Smiley is investigating.  One comedy site described the movie as "old men talking."  True: there are no explosions or car chases, and lots of document-reading, but when all the intricate puzzle pieces fall into place, the payoff is immensely gratifying.
(photo from Imp Awards)

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