Sunday, January 08, 2012

"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (2011) - Movie Review

What a damn methodical film “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is. Director Tomas Alfredson adapting this novel by John Le Carre on to the screen says it is about the journey and not the destination as it has always been in these many great films. Arranging packets of information while keeping us glued to the screen is an extraordinary sense of achievement in executing the script. Putting pieces together has never been suited to address a film. With actors whom I have no idea how they grasped each of the scene’s gravity to provide this unperturbed link of story telling is a surprise to me. No wonder you not alone have the proven cast of Gary Oldman and Colin Firth but also the rising talents of Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch as well. Add John Hurt, Toby Jones and Mark Strong, you get the brilliance in the supporting cast as you get in a thorough script by Bridge O’Connor and Peter Straughan.

These are not James Bonds but office workers traveling around simply and in the constant undertone of fear. There is not much socializing or at least the socializing is a front for something else. There is no fascination of this job other than wandering gloomily on a dreary day. Smoking with a longing of what entails further in this job is what you see in these spies’ lives. The undercurrent of the betrayal, loyalty, trust and friendship are sprinkled with suspicion.

The film’s motive is to drive its viewers through a complex plot with a stunning clarity. Gary Oldman is Smiley an old spy agent who got forced into retirement along with his head Control (John Hurt). The reason being the miserable collapse of an assignment Control’s agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) went into in Hungary on a purpose of getting information about a mole in the agency’s top level. Jim gets shot by Soviets and the political mess that instigated leaves the old man to die unknowingly of the perpetrator. A year later another source in the form of agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) providing confirmation that there exists a mole brings the retired Smiley to investigate. Smiley keeps Ricki’s contact Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) and adds another trusted fellow from old days to carry on this secret investigation.

Control had his suspects on all of his spies including Smiley but the new information has taken him out of the equation there by leaving Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). By the time we arrive to the answer, we are left with a terrific exercise in execution of a perfect screenplay. The story is told with a sombre feeling all the way as if their jobs seem relentlessly bland in terms of action but terrifyingly real in terms of the consequences. Yet through all these we are constantly thrilled and provided tiny pieces of information and we are on the lookout.

There is no great dialogues of morality, loyalty and what not. What is out there are the men who perfectly know what they signed up for. Their passion is invisible in this labour but once they are in, they are in. When Smiley goes through the investigation he is emotionless. The only time even he shows signs of anger towards this mole is when he talks with the mole in the confinement of the intelligence. There are personal lives that are cut short for the job and the pain has left them pale.

The invisible characters are the key to this compelling story. There is Smiley’s wife with whom Haydon has an affair and that is not underlined but mentioned which forms an identity of its own. There is Karla, the KGB agent who taunts Smiley and their rivalry carries such a powerful undertone throughout the film. The sub plots of the story develops a sad but a strong emotional component to this whole mixture. As Jim Prideaux surfaces as a teacher in a school and the subtle bond he develops with a student, we are more intrigued on these multilayered personalities living lives amongst shadows and closed curtains.

Alfredson’s story fascinated me in the building up the blocks. The film is not on the suspense but on the procedure. David Fincher’s “Zodiac” comes to mind on how it assimilated the details rather than the actual find. The “wow” moment when the suspense unfurls is not the key to this thriller and that is not the intention of this film either. This is an exercise on providing a film that does not let you close to these characters yet you are enthralled and bored by their lives. This is bare bones in presenting the world that otherwise is mostly exaggerated and exploited in providing action and thrilling films. Tomas Alfredson provides a thriller unlike any other where the details are the angels of precise film making.

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