Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Gary Oldman, Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kathy Burke, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, John Hurt
Synopsis: Based on the novel of the same name by John le Carre, this is the intriguing slow-burn tale of George Smiley (Oldman), who returns to the British Secret Intelligence Service from which he was forcibly retired to uncover a mole. His former chief, known as Control (Hurt) had narrowed the mole down to one of four individuals in the organisations higher echelons. He referred to them by code names; Tinker (Jones), Tailor (Firth), Soldier (Hinds), and Poorman (Dencik).
I approached this film with mixed anticipation and curiosity. I had heard very mixed reviews of the film, with there seeming to be little room for a middle-ground opinion. Some had told me that it was slow, boring, and confusing. I was told by these same people that they were fast-forwarding scenes just to get to the end. Then there were the discussions I had where it was proclaimed an intelligent masterpiece with great performances from high-quality actors at the top of their game.
Having seen it now, I can see how both opinions can be generated, and can declare myself to firmly be in one of the two categories I have listed above. For me, this film is an absolute masterpiece. The execution is slow, but there is so much going on under the surface that I was enthralled for the entire running time of the feature. Clues were delicately pried apart to only unveil more that had yet to be unravelled. Given that this is the first in a trilogy of novels by le Carre, not even all the threads are yet neatly tied up, but I am hoping the success of this film lets the audience enjoy two more sequels.
The combination of intelligent plot with Alfredson’s proven eye for detail (he previously wowed me with his last English language feature, Let the Right One In), means that anyone willing to really think and consider every angle of this film will appreciate it. I could perhaps argue that my friends that did not enjoy it were looking for a different type of film when seeing it, a spy thriller more akin to the modern-day blockbuster. Expectations can be the biggest villain in the enjoyment of certain types of cinema. I think if you start watching this film with the idea of engaging your mind and trying to unravel the mystery yourself, that is when you will become truly engaged. With this attitude, the slow pace will seem just perfect for what is being revealed, and it also allows greater enjoyment of the skills being displayed by these wonderful actors.
Top credit of course goes to Oldman. His central performance is really key to the whole film, and one feels that the other actors are putting on their finest to try to be at the same level. A big statement for me to make, given how proven many of these actors are, but I stand by my comment. His Smiley is both world-weary, and yet devoted to his cause. So much is going on under the surface of this mystery, just as there is so much going on under the surface in Smiley himself. His body conveys one message whereas his eyes speak volumes. Jones and Firth are also both stand-out taking the meat in their roles and doing well not to be lost in the background, sometimes. The other two spies under investigation get less screen time, but are certainly adequate in their roles.
Two of the more minor roles deserve mention as well. Hardy is going from strength to strength at this point, his role is small but vital to the plot. He is certainly playing a different character here to those that he is now more well-known for with The Dark Knight Rises and Inception, yet he disappears into his performance, and is immensely watchable even for a straight guy!! Cumberbatch as well does swimmingly, and yet again confirms himself as one of my favorite actors of this generation.
This film is not for every audience, and if you are looking for a spy-thriller-adventure type of film, this is not the place to look. However, if your goal is to engage your mind and bury yourself in wonderous detail, you will be hard pressed to find a more entertaining new release DVD.
5 stars out of 5