Tinker Tailor Solider Spy (Alfredson, 2011)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tomas Alfredson

15

127mins

***** out of 5

   Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy begins with a shooting. It also ends with one. That however, is just about as far as the gunplay goes; this is a spy thriller set in the offices and safe houses of a grainy, down-trodden and melancholy world. Don’t let that put you off however, it is also the smartest, most absorbing film of the year.

Our setting is 1973 and the height of the Cold War, an increasingly frosty period laced with suspicion, paranoia, mistrust and treachery. “Control” (played by John Hurt) is the head of a British secret service cell known as the Circus, who receives ‘golden’ intelligence that there is a Russian mole at the top of his organisation, and in reaction deploys agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Hungary in order to attain the identity of the traitor. What ensues is a melee of cat and mouse, shown in suspicious, smoke-smeared scenes, dusty flashbacks and hazy memories.

After Prideaux is shot in the back during an incredibly uneasy and wonderfully staged rendezvous, “Control” and his man George Smiley (the terrific Gary Oldman) are unceremoniously dismissed. Sometime later, and after pug-faced Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) has taken control at the Circus, the perspicacious Smiley renews the mole-hunt with the aid of Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch).Their attentions soon turn to the inner circle and four men in particular; Alleline (Tinker), Bill Haydon (Tailor), Roy Bland (Soldier) and Toby Esterhase (Poorman) – one or more of whom have committed both national and personal betrayals.

This is the second adaptation of John Le Carré’s gripping 1974 source novel, following the BBC television version of 1979 starring Alec Guinness. Despite director Tomas Alfredson’s new take being a period piece, the era and atmosphere are both exquisitely recreated with assured confidence. His austere world is one of beiges, browns and greys; a yellow fog tingeing the screen, like decades worth of nicotine stain. There are no super spies in the ilk of Bond or Bourne to be found here, no heroes – indeed there is something of a sadness about them, an almost pitiful demeanour of middle aged men playing at espionage.

The casting is inch perfect, with the aforementioned Cumberbatch and the engrossing Tom Hardy as twitchy field agent Ricki Tarr being particular highlights. The king performance at the centre of this chessboard of deception however comes from Gary Oldman. Always so effective as part of an ensemble in recent years (the Harry Potter and Batman franchises), he really excels and thrives here as the sharp, serene Smiley who simultaneously suffers and struggles with his own personal humiliation in silence, epitomising Britishness and never allowing it to affect the job in hand.

Alfredson has created an enthralling, engaging and intricately clever modern-day masterpiece, aided by a superb cast and Alberto Iglesias’s splendid score. The result is an intelligent film about the intelligence service – a novel thing.

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Cemetery Junction [Five Word Review]

Rebel without a cause - Tom Hughes in 'Cemetery Junction'

 Cemetery Junction (Gervais & Merchant, 2010)

Plot:   In the early 1970s in a sleepy borough of Reading, three friends on the cusp of adulthood find themselves at a crossroads and must decide what exactly they want to do with their lives.

Boiled Down:   Light.   Conventional.   Inevitable.   Nice.   Inspiring.

Rating:   3 out of 5 stars


Ran [Five Word Review]

The visual spectacle that is 'Ran'

Ran (Kurosawa, 1985)

Plot:   A merging and retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear and a similar Japanese legend, relocated to Sengoku-era Japan and the children of the increasingly frenzied Hidetora, whose relationships with their ailing father become increasingly tumultuous when he decides to divide up his dwindling kingdom.

Boiled Down:   Epic.   Passionate.   Nihilistic.   PureCinema.   Stunning.

Rating:   5 out of 5 stars

Robin Hood [Five Word Review]

Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett

Robin Hood (Scott, 2010)

Plot:   A slight twist on the classic English tale, archer Robin Longstride returns from the crusades and masquerades as Sir Robert Loxley in order to stop the late knight’s lands from being confiscated from his widow Marian; this leads to Robin soon becoming embroiled in a plot to facilitate a French invasion of Britain.

Boiled Down:   Hollow.   Reserved.   Nothing.   New.   Here.

Rating:   2 out of 5 stars