Friday, January 6, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) – Review

Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is structured in the manner of the classic spy dramas – short on action but long on tension, mystery and wonderful characters. The film centers on George Smiley, a spy recently forced to retire due to a change in power at MI6 (the Circus), who is tasked with finding the Russian mole placed at the top of British Intelligence. Director Tomas Alfredson is clearly not interested in making a James Bond or Mission: Impossible style spy drama with Tinker Tailor Solider Spy (not that the book(s) is anything like those action spy series) – in fact he is not interested in making a light spy drama either. This film requires its viewer to pay attention, as the narrative is a little convoluted – much in the same way trying to uncover a mystery is – with many characters, lots of important dialogue and small moments that all piece together a bigger picture. The audience is required to keep track of all these small pieces as the film is not dumbed down in the slightest. Alfredson and his actors live in the world of nuance and subtlety, and for this reason moviegoers looking for a light action oriented spy film are going to find this possibly very slow. The narrative is not in a hurry, as Alfredson takes his time letting the mystery unfold (something I appreciated, as it is not too common in film today), while building the tension until it suddenly boils over and the film becomes quite gripping in the second half. The story takes place in the 1970s during the Cold War, and aesthetically Alfredson has very much created both a look and tone to fit the setting. Not only does the film look gloomy and a little bleak (much like the world outlook at the time), but the film feels like it was made in the 1970s. There is almost a nostalgic feel to it (especially in the score). While the film works quite well as a spy drama, it also is a good character study of George Smiley – a man whose entire life is dedicated to keeping secrets. However, back to the spy drama aspect, Alfredson does something great with the film – he allows the tension to grow organically from the characters and performances (not explosions and big action set pieces, not that there is anything wrong with that this is just a nice change of pace for the genre). Each word of dialogue becomes as impactful as any action scene might be. The characters are also given a chance to interact in more of a cloak-and-dagger manner (than running around shooting at each other or fighting); again, each word or expression becoming more important, as the wrong one could give them away. At the same time, as the film is about spies, the characters are all very much bottled up, making it hard to connect with them superficially (which will again alienate some moviegoers) and there is not much of an emotional connection built up between character and viewer, which does impact the viewer’s stake in the outcome a bit. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not going to work for everyone; it is much too restrained for that. But, for those willing to take it as it is, pay attention and invest in the characters (and thereby the stakes), the film is a fantastic mystery spy drama.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson became a promenade filmmaker (at least for international audiences) with Let the Right One In. Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is his first English-language film, but aesthetically and to an extent tonally the films go together well, building quite a resume for Alfredson as one of the better dramatic filmmakers working right now. Alfredson takes his time with his narratives, but the payoffs are wonderful. He builds tension (that in a way seems to come out of nowhere, as he develops it over the whole course of the film) very well. And, he is very good at creating good character moments allowing his actors to do their best work. Alberto Iglesias’s score is beautiful (as a stand-alone piece), but also fits the film very well. He both gets the mood right, as the score very much feels like it fits in the 1970s in many places, and builds on the tension in the film (here is a sample and here is another). Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is quite interesting, as he and Alfredson have put the camera far away from the actors in many cases, using wide lens, creating a very voyeuristic feel to the photography. This again goes really well with the tone and style of the film. As good as the score and cinematography are (both are in my top 10 of the year in their categories), Maria Djurkovic’s production design is even better. Her work not only fits the film well it is aesthetically interesting in its own right. Her design work inside the Circus, particularly its executive floor, is phenomenal, as it captures the ambiance and mood of the era so entirely (while also being compelling from a pure design perspective as well). While Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is primarily George Smiley’s film, there are a number of good small character roles. Tom Hardy, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch are very good and stand out. Among the top tier of the Circus, Colin Firth, Toby Jones and especially David Dencik give great performances too. Gary Oldman is brilliant as Smiley. His emotions are so boxed up, and he is such a cool customer – and yet he just gives the audience enough to allow us to feel the tension he is feeling – another great character from one of the great character actors.

Summary & score: In many ways Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of the best spy dramas to come out in a long time, but it is not going to connect with many moviegoers. 8/10

No comments:

Post a Comment