Movie review – Spy versus spy

2012-03-09 08:13

Film: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Nu Metro)
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Featuring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciarán Hinds and Kathy Burke
Rating: 8/10

Swedish director Tomas Alfredson’s 21st-century remake of John Le Carre’s Cold War-era spy thriller is a perfect piece of retro cinema.

Coupled with Gary Oldman’s Oscar-nominated depiction of George Smiley, this film version easily surpasses the 1979 TV miniseries that starred the late, great Alec Guinness as Smiley.

Le Carre, who worked for MI5 and MI6 at the height of the Cold War, brings a realism to his stories that could only have come from an insider’s knowledge.

This 1974 story, like many of his others, deals with internal housekeeping, with a spy spying on spies to find out which spy is spying for the other side. Whew.

Almost all the action takes place in the intelligence services’ building, dubbed The Circus by those who work there, and in a small nondescript flat from which Smiley directs operations.

Smiley, an agent pushed out after an operation ends in the death of one of their own, is called out of retirement by the minister to root out a mole. One buried so deep he is intimately linked to this group of Cold War operatives in ways that are akin to family.

The film’s cast list reads like a who’s who of British cinema and once you see it you might wonder why it didn’t see more awards season action.

While there are no whizz-bang effects like we are used to seeing in other spy movies such as the Bond or Bourne franchises, there is a slow-burn build to a shattering climax.

The title refers to Smiley’s investigation. Having given his closest allies a moniker such as tinker, tailor or soldier, he has to sift through time and the evidence to find which one is a traitor.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this film is that it strips away the glamour from a job that is in effect professional lying for what the liar perceives to be the greater good. It’s dizzying watching – and keeping track – of who is up to what in this Circus.

If you have enjoyed other adaptations of Le Carre’s work, including The Little Drummer Girl, Russia House and The Tailor of Panama, chances are you will revel in this story that captures all the paranoia, suspicion and ruthlessness

that characterised this period in intelligence history.

» Follow me on Twitter @GayleMahala

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