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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Review * 14 September 2011


'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' is a truly exceptional film. Perhaps the single analogy that could be applied to it is 'glacial' - its emotional content is cool, and narrative pacing seemingly ponderous and slow. Yet like a polar sheet of ice, beneath the surface lie enormous hidden depths, coupled with a relentlessly unstoppable force pushing towards it's conclusion. The film is truly about the repression of the characters, the secrets that they hide from each other and even themselves, leading to frayed alliances and staggering betrayal.

As George Smiley, Gary Oldman is astonishing, his languid and still exterior a mask that conceals a ferocious, almost cobra like core of anger that only truly becomes apparent towards the film's conclusion. His drunken monologue to Benedict Cumberbatch's Peter Guillam, detailing his single meeting with his nemesis Karla, is rivetingly spine chilling and deserves to reach the same standing as other such sequences, like Quint's recounting of the USS Indianapolis sinking in 'Jaws'.  The silent fury that his entire life has been silently targeted by Karla is palpable, a faceless duel that crosses thousands of miles but played out through the suspicion of his former colleagues.

While Smiley carries the film's intellectualism, its Cumberbatch's Guillam that performs the legwork. The much discussed showpiece sequence of Guillam's thievery within the halls of The Circus renders him a twitchy emotional mess, the first to truly reveal the hardship of this life of spycraft and suspicion through sudden violence against 'in from the cold' Ricky Tarr [a superb Tom Hardy, reuniting with Cumberbatch after their very different double act in 'Stuart: A Life Backwards'] Mention has been made of the change to Guillam's sexuality from the original novel - in the end, it is inconsequential to the narrative, instead driving home the thematic core of the film - the sacrifices these men make affect all facets of their existence, professionally, personally, psychologically. Yet ultimately, Guillam again pulls the mask back down, for nothing must come before the safety and security of his country in this life.

Tomas Alfredson's direction is hugely skillful, pulling tremendous tension out of every scene, and superb performances from all involved. Mention should be made of the editing, moving between various chronologies with aplomb, while the subtle yet impactful sound design, combined with Alberto Iglesias' jazz tinged score, consistently leaves the audience on edge.

There are numerous minor changes from the original novel, none of them affecting the resolution of the story itself but adding to the propulsion of narrative. The structure is amended, the opening revealing scenes only mentioned in the past tense in the book but played out in order onscreen, while some story details that are revealed immediately in the text instead here become revelations. Some characters are jettisoned wholesale, others expanded, and the ambiguity of the novel's final pages removed entirely in favour of clear cut resolution. Regardless, 'Tinker Tailor' is an unmissable piece of work, a masterclass of acting and production in all aspects, and deserves to be nominated across many categories come the awards season. Go in expecting to see how spying would really be, rather than an action thriller, and you will be richly rewarded.