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It is based on John le Carre’s novel by the same name set in the heady days of the cold war of the early 1970s where British and Soviet Union spies sparred at the highest level and it was common for moles to appear and reappear at the very head of these spy agencies. John le Carre’s spy series revelled in intricate plots, enigmatic spies, and subtle clues, more like a game of chess than one of poker.
The Plot without giving the story away
It is a typical Le Carre plot where a KGB (former Soviet Union spy agency) mole has infiltrated the very top of the British counterpart MI6. Earlier attempts to locate and neutralise him had gone badly wrong for former MI6 head Control’s (John Hurt) resulting in the death of operative Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) and his unceremonious ouster. Now shady characters head various departments of the MI6.
In this situation, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a disgraced former MI6 agent is invited back and given the task to find and eliminate the KGB mole who is deeply embedded at the very top of the MI6. The first suspect is agent Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) who is negotiating frantically in trying to rescue his Soviet lover. But as the plot thickens and the intrigue develops, the suspect is narrowed down to the former MI6 chief’s replacements preposterously codenamed ‘Tinker’, ‘Tailor’, ‘Soldier’ and ‘Poorman’. Smiley and his hardworking loyal sidekick Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) then get on the job to locate this Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
The Intrigue again without giving mole away
Firstly, is there really a mole? Can an institution that swears itself by diehard loyalty and heady nationalism be compromised by its own trusted men? And even if there was such a thing could it rise to be at the very top? So supreme that a MI6 chief had to face the sack and his trusted operative shown the eternal door? Who are the men who have replaced him? Are they to be trusted? Could the mole be its new chief Percy (Toby Jones), or can it be his best mate Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), or maybe it is his assistant Esterhase (David Dencik) or perhaps it is the flamboyant Bill Haydon (Colin Firth)?
And what about the corresponding sub plot of the agent who teaches at a school now after being betrayed? Can there be a link? Do the two strands ever twine? Mark Strong as the betrayed agent is terrific in propagating the mystery and the film preserves its secret well for an astonishing climax.
It is not in the mould of a Bond with its high tech gadgetry and sensuous women, nor is it like Bourne with its dash and action packed sequences. It is old fashioned spy thriller with realistic spies engaged in genuine spycraft.
It is those days when spies depended on the usual break-ins and stealing log-books. It is those days when spies depended on their memory and others too, and not on high tech gadgets to unravel secrets. It was those days where spies ran down spies by wrapping them in interrogative conversations extricating hidden truths.
The Oscar nominated Oldman is wonderful. His restrained mannerisms, his measured modulations, his reflective pauses and his interrogative technique are simply superb.
The others British thespians also play their part brilliantly without ever overwhelming the character they play.
The Director and his team
It is directed by the famous Swedish director, Tomas Alfredson. It is a thoroughly gentleman film handled in a very special way helped by Alredson’s Scandinavian aesthetic austerity. He brings about the Britishness in the film not only with its straight-cut suits, drab office buildings accompanied by the stiff upper lip but also with the intelligent use of the soundtrack. Though, the film in not very warm or hospitable with its interwoven plots, hosts of important characters that are all too difficult to comprehend and enigmatic mysteries not helped by screenwritersBridget O’Connor and PeterStraughan unyielding loyalty to the original novel, Alfredson makes it respectable and rewarding.
It is a brain teaser. The enemy is unseen which makes it mysteriously enigmatic. The evil Karla, the KGB boss always stays under cover while the traitor spars with Smiley. Smiley has comes back after being disgraced by his boss Control botched up an earlier mission to find the traitor. He dies soon after but leaves behind a trail of suspicions.
It is tediously slow and not for those used to manic chases, crazy shooting and monster brawls. It is clever, adroit, deceptive and absorbing. It is as close as a film can become a Carre novel. It is dexterously delicious.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was one of the best spy novels of its time and the movie is one of the best spy movies of our times. It is thoroughly engrossing. It exercises your brains and keeps you anticipating as a spy thriller should.
The blu-ray effect transports you to the Cold War period of early 1970s by augmenting the very grain of the film. You can visualize details of minute proportions. The close-ups are brilliant. Oldman shots are not only brilliant but outstanding. The facial details stand out – the hair, the clothes, the shadows and the silhouettes. The colours are sharp though not necessarily bright which gives it a washed down 1970s feel. Some might feel that dark and grey scenes are a bit overdone to enhance the dull and coldness of the shot but it does not tend to interfere and where it does it seems on purpose.
The music score is on DTS-HD 5.1 which boosts the sound quality immensely. The visuals had given us a sense of the time; the music sets the sense of space. On listening to the track alone you can sense the locale. It puts you into the centre of the action or in many cases, inaction or silence – the prelude to a coming action.
The big let-down is that it has ignored the fact that a person seeks to have a blu-ray copy essentially for its bonus features. Otherwise he could have been satisfied seeing it in a theatre. There is a DVD and digital copies but there is no additional bonus features beyond some deleted scenes, a commentary with Alfredson and Oldman, a ‘first look’ that provides token background on plot and film and interviews with crew and cast including John le Carre. Carre’s interview is the highlight of the bonus feature providing plethora of interesting information. I had wished for a lot more bonus features especially for a film of such intrigue and powerful performance.
Production Year: 2001 - Thriller - Director: Alejandro Amenabar - Original Language: English - Classification: 12 years and over - Starring: Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston, Fionnula Flanagan, Elaine Cassidy, Eric Sykes, Renee Asherson, Keith Allen