Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is good, old-fashioned, Anglo-Saxon hi-jinks

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – 2011

Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Starring Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Dencik, Tom Hardy, Kathy Burke, Simon McBurney
Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan based on the novel by John le Carré

There is a intimidation brought on by the specter of a bunch of British actors sauntering through the big screen, speaking calmly of deception, spying and murder.  The feeling that, if my mind drifts for just a half-minute, or even a second, one could miss a word, a wink or even a stare that would set them sideways.  The first half hour of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy plays this way.  At one point, we see Control, played effortlessly by John Hurt, across from his right hand man, Smiley, who is Gary Oldman in another one of his wonderful turns, out in the middle of a sidewalk.  They have just been “retired” by a job gone wrong.  No words are exchanged, but they know exactly what’s being said.  Within a couple of scenes, Control lay dead in a hospital bed.

Why would a film have to be remade, after such a wonderful job first time around, capped by Sir Alec Guinness as Smiley.   One quickly arrives to the other types of films that are remade in the U.K., namely, Jane Austen films.  There is plenty of scenery chewing to go around.  Anyone who sees Firth, Jones, Hurt or Oldman swap concerned looks and Cumberbatch, Hardy or Strong do yeoman’s work can understand why so many decent actors take second bill in films like this.

Oldman gives a wonderful performance, giving as much gravitas as Smiley requires.  More impressive, however, is the performance of Mark Strong.  Often the bellwether antagonist for bad films, he gets to play a true believer with a fair amount of integrity.  His effort is unexpectedly interesting and rewarding.  Tom Hardy is fast becoming one of the best character actors in the business.  Within 3 years he should be a regular Oscar nominee.  Cumberbatch has a considerable presence that should bode well for the next Star Trek film.

The amount of enjoyment one can get from watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is directly proportional to how much one listens to the film.  Nothing is obvious to the casual observer and many clues happen as tape rolls, which is what counted for spy gear in the early 1970’s era Cold War.

If you are trying to decide for an alternative to Mission Impossible, Bourne Identity or James Bond, this only works if you don’t expect to see or hear any explosions.

(**** out of *****)

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