Monday, January 9, 2012

Man on Film: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

In his follow-up to the wildly successful--at least artistically and critically, though it does seem to have also found a life post-theatrically on both Netflix and by more traditional rental means--Let the Right One In, director Tomas Alfredson sinks his teeth into the classic John le CarrĂ© espionage thriller, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Eschewing the commas, Alfredson & Co. set out to (and succeed in) craft a slow-burning espionage thiller heavy on the intrigue but light on the actual action. Reflective of the Cold War that was the backdrop, the war is fought primarily in the backrooms with the action that plays out in the field being secondary to what happens at home. This is where Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy lives, and this is where it excels.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a throw-back to the spy thrillers of old. In total, there are three gunshots fired (if I remember correctly), yet the audience is kept precariously on the edge of their seats for the duration of the film. Suspense is built masterfully through old-fashioned means that do not come across as dated, choosing to forgo the bells and whistles of recent thrillers, instead reveling in actually constructing a labyrinthine plot with characters that earn the emotions the viewer is supposed to invest in them while giving plausible rationale for betrayal to each of the titular chess pieces.

In piecing together this tale, Alfredson nails the stark 70s British look. It's hard to tell if the sun ever shined during filming, but it looks fantastic for having the sun nearly eliminated. The art direction and production design succeed in vividly capturing the era. Alfredson's lens lets in only the dreary and, in doing so, captures the mood with aplomb.

All of this would be for naught were it not for the performances, especially those of Gary Oldman and Benedict Cumberbatch. Both carry the film with their cool, calm, and restraint. The brief views of their characters' human sides make the audience care--brilliantly so, as this is done through was equates to little more than filmic snapshots. With Oldman, one expects him to seamlessly embody his character without ego, but Cumberbatch (the titular Sherlock in the outstanding BBC series) distinguishes himself well amongst a cast that includes Colin Firth, John Hurt, and Tom Hardy. While everyone holds down their own role in a tonally apropos fashion, it is Cumberbatch and Oldman who distinguish themselves above the others

If Alfredson was at all concerned with having bitten off more than he could chew, he can sleep soundly because he followed up Let the Right One In with a fantastic espionage thriller that captures the feel of its ancestors while feeling entirely fresh on the current cinematic landscape. Yes, this is odd to say about something that is the second adaptation of le CarrĂ©'s 1974 novel, but regardless of whether or not you've seen the 1979 BBC mini-series or not, the statement remains true. Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a helluva palette cleanser from the dreck that otherwise litters this landscape.

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