Sunday 18 September 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) - Tomas Alfredson

If you're looking for the next Bond, you won't find it here.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is its very antithesis - guns, gadgets, cars and babes switched for simple talking.  And lots of it.

The premise of the plot is plain - there's a Russian mole in the British ranks and it's up to Gary Oldman's George Smiley to uncover him.  This is dressed in a slow burning, complex web of intrigue, the suspects represented metaphorically by chess pieces and played by an impressive cast of British talent.

But the real star is the cinematography.  As a period piece for the Cold War era, the film masterfully recreates a convincing look and feel.  Each frame is precisely composed, filled with sombre tones and lighting with deep shadows.  Intense close-ups heighten the tension between the characters, whilst a propensity for distance shots and views through windows, doors and other barriers emphasise the whole idea of spying.  Not only that, it puts us in Smiley's position as we too spy on each of the suspsects.

Except, this highlights the film's biggest flaw.  The narrative focuses soley on Smiley's predicament rather than offering deep characterisation for the other men.  As such, instead of letting the audience decide for ourselves, we must blindly and impotently follow in Smiley's footsteps - we are literally the spies left out in the cold.  Further, the implications of the mole are never explicitly revealed, merely implied by the political context.  As a result, although the tension between the characters is palpable, the film lacks a sense of urgency or dramatic impetus, not helped by the slow pace.  The plot complexities are portrayed with incredible subtlety and are often difficult to follow.  Stripped down, the film actually amounts to very little.  But perhaps this was intentional, like the Cold War itself - all bark and no bite.

The cast excel with some compelling performances, even if the casting does give away the climax somewhat.  Ultimately, though, the film hinges on Smiley and with Oldman's detached, focused portrayal, he proves a far from endearing [lack of] personality.  Alberto Iglesias provides a jazz score that injects some sex into the smoky, seedy proceedings.  Otherwise, this is a film with style and visual impact but, ironically enough, very little to say.