The new film from director Tomas Alfredson, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” has only one flaw, but it’s intrinsically huge. That said, it is an intellectual and intriguing mystery with a killer ending.
John le Carre’s best-selling Cold War novel (1974) finally makes it to the big screen (PBS aired a miniseries in 1979). Set in 1970s England, the film starts out with a huge bang. A covert operation in Hungary has gone terribly wrong. The mission was set into action by Control (John Hurt), who believed that there was a mole at the highest level in the Secret Intelligence Service. He resigns after the fiasco, and retired operative George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is re-recruited to investigate the validity of Control’s suspicions.
The list of suspects has been narrowed down to four men with code names from a nursery rhyme: “Tinker,” Percy Alleline (Toby Jones); “Tailor,” Bill Haydon (Colin Firth); “Soldier,” Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds); and “Poorman,” Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). Spy, of course, equals mole. And, coming in from the cold eliminates Smiley from suspicion. Intelligence leaks, betrayals, torture and secretive gay relationships are soon unearthed, proving that “nothing is genuine anymore.” No one can be trusted.
Alfredson (“Let the Right One In”) ingeniously employs the dropping of subtle clues, one of which involves a single bead of sweat plopping onto a table from a waiter’s brow. You know, instinctively, all hell is about to break loose. He also masterfully accentuates the sinister goings-on through lighting. It’s dark, dreary and divine.
As the film opens, we are treated to a close-up of Hurt’s craggy face and reminded of the consummate actor he is. He simply graces the screen with his presence. Oldman is, finally, once again center stage, demonstrating he can own a film even among some of the greatest British film actors out there today. And, although following the plot, at times, can be confusing, witnessing impeccable performances more than compensates for the diversions.
Spoiler alert: There is one monumental casting catastrophe in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” Now, don’t get me wrong. Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”) is beyond perfect in the film. But one should never cast an actor of his caliber (Oscar winner) whose character’s screen time is practically nil until the end. It’s inevitable he’s going to show up and have an immense impact. It’s just too suspicious and, might I add, obvious that Firth’s absence was a dead giveaway.
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