Director: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth
Runtime: 127 mins
Based on the acclaimed novel by John le Carré, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an attempt by director Tomas Alfredson to follow the growing trend of introducing new perspectives on established genres. On the face of it, this could have been a spy film in the vein of the popular Bourne and James Bond franchises, but instead, Alfredson decides to bring a restrained mood of intrigue and uncertainty.
The cast is littered with talent, ranging from the magnetic Gary Oldman to the incredibly talented Tom Hardy, fresh from his success in Inception. Though they are uniformly excellent, Alfredson appears to underuse many of the actors (including no less than Oscar-winner Colin Firth) in favour of stylised silences and seemingly meaningless shots of everyday activity, as if trying to ensure the impressive period design got its fair share of screen time.
The plot concerns the attempt to reveal the identity of a mole inside the British secret service: George Smiley (Oldman) comes out of retirement to try and discover who betrayed an agent (Mark Strong) who was undercover in Hungary. But Alfredson’s attachment to rigid realism often detracts from the viewing pleasure of an audience who will often struggle to keep track of the somewhat convoluted plot. With so many scenes staged in dark, smoke-filled rooms, and characters of questionable motive and allegiance, the result can become confusing, especially to someone who has not watched the earlier TV adaptation or read Le Carré’s novel.
This confusion is not made any simpler by Alfredson’s decision to include flashbacks and red herrings quite so incessantly; as a result, the lengthy running time never seems like quite enough to ensure a balanced pace leading to a satisfying conclusion. Nor is this helped by the film’s absence of humour and the fact that it rarely gives the characters a chance to appear sympathetic to the audience. Even Tom Hardy’s love affair occurs on the job and under the pretence of discovering the identity of the Russian agent. Overall, despite the film’s noble intention of introducing a more restrained version of the traditionally eccentric British spy genre, it ultimately fails to deliver.