Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Rating: 15
Duration: 127 mins

Without doubt the trailer of the year award goes to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It's not an exaggeration either to describe it as one of the most atmospheric and tense teasers in years, but can the film live up to the flawless trailer? In the capable hands of Let The Right One In director, Tomas Alfredson, you would assume so and based on the John le Carré novel; again, all implications are positive. The 1979 series starring Alec Guiness was well received and is regarded as a hidden gem in television. In all, the movie adaptation has a hell of a lot to live up to, especially in regards to the Oscar buzz emanating from Gary Oldman's performance.

Recent MI6 retiree, George Smiley (Oldman), is summoned back to uncover a Soviet mole within their presence. Smiley, accompanied by Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), begins a secret investigation away from the prying eye of Government bods, Bill Hayden (Colin Firth), Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds), and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), in the hope of uncovering said traitor.

What's clear from the beginning is that this is no normal film; it's a different kettle of fish to a typical mainstream thriller and can be described as a 'film lover's film' because technically it's very accomplished. It is meticulously directed, nicely lit and boasts some beautiful cinematography as well. Its other strengths are clear too, as the British ensemble exudes such poise and subtlety as they complement one another's performances and convey an authentic 1970's, Cold War era. The costumes, as well as locations, are spot on as the realism is accentuated by the grainy, grey filter over the entire film.

As the story progresses there are moments of tension and danger as characters become ever paranoid in regards to a double agent's identity. However, there's not nearly enough intensity as you would expect, more-often-than-not opting for a methodically slow-paced approach rather than forcing you to sweat it out.

Focally the film shifts between time periods through flashbacks, but we're never informed of these changes, which often become apparent during or after the scene has concluded. There's no need for this ambiguity as it serves no purpose; Alfredson doesn't try to shock nor reveal anything of significance, which begs the question regarding the absence of clarity. Furthermore, the story fails to fixate on anyone in particular; Oldman is the predominant 'lead', but we are presented with sub plots from side character perspectives, thus preventing us from completely engaging with a sole protagonist. It is this disregard for clarity and focus that prevents you from bring lured into the thick of the conspiracy, often relying on intuition to deduce Alfredson's motives regarding the constant shifts.

On a positive note, aside from Oldman, other performances that demand attention are Mark Strong's Jim Prideaux and Tom Hardy's brief, yet powerful role as Ricki Tarr. Both actors offer convincing interpretations as each are responsible for some emotionally touching scenes. For either to receive a supporting actor nod isn't out of the question either.

What feels like a missed opportunity is the immediacy of danger- or lack of it. Rarely are we presented with anything other than conversations between main characters. At times it can appear confusing as to what exactly is happening and which people are being discussed as the film tackles the story in a subtle, yet rather vague manner. It therefore becomes difficult to follow as you constantly play catch-up trying to figure out what has just occurred.

Key aspects- including the reveal- are underplayed and could have been constructed to build much more apprehension, thus having more impact as an engaging narrative. Whilst it boasts immense atmosphere, the fundamental elements of a thriller are absent as it fails to keep you on the edge of your seat, instead forcing your brain into overdrive to keep up with the complexities of the narrative.

Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy is an alternative film that can both appeal to and alienate mainstream audiences. It's a very slow burner that'll perhaps appeal to the purer cinema lover within, as Alfredson offers up a whodunit-thriller with superb acting and an authentically set story that is unfortunately marred by a lack of pace and tension. The Cold War setting is painstakingly constructed as it succeeds in drawing the viewer into a world of trust, espionage and paranoia, but it's a shame these positives are weighed down by too much ambiguity and a confused script, not to mention a missed opportunity to truly grip and enthral like the trailer promises.