Tuesday, January 24, 2012

REVIEW: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

2010 Thriller, Drama, Mystery

Starring:  Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch
Written by Bridget O'Conner, Peter Straughan
Directed by Tomas Alfredson

Hollywood adapting a beloved, highly acclaimed novel is like George Lucas putting out another Star Wars project: you know you're just gonna run home and burn the shit out of your Chewbacca comforter. Especially in this case since it already WAS adapted into an equally -if not even more- beloved mini-series topped by an iconic performance from sir Alec Guiness. But this is a restrained British effort from Working Title handled by the Swedish equivalent of Steven Soderbergh; definitely not in Kansas anymore.

A secret operation to uncover a mole in the highest level of British Intelligence goes horribly wrong and puts a top British spy in the hands of the enemy, so someone must swing. The head of "The Circus", a man known only as Control, and his right hand George Smiley are nonchalantly pushed out into retirement for uselessly causing an international incident. But when rogue spy Ricky Tarr reappears and appeals directly to a government official that Control was right about a mole high up in his lair, Smiley is forced back in the game to finish what his mentor started. 

Daft Punk: The Metamucil Years

A new adaptation of the story could've gone wrong so many ways had the key elements not been met with such gusto. No actual action scenes are ever shown and what little of it appears is done with astonishing realism, while the music is anything but conventional for a spy thriller, closing all of the lingering storylines with a montage under Julio Iglesias' French version of Bobby Darrin's Somewhere Beyond the Sea. Props and sets could perfectly serve as a documentary to how bleak and dirty everything was in the mid-70s, and the cherry on top is to never -ever- show even a glimpse of the evil mastermind behind everything, the Russian spymaster Karla. 

None of it matters though if George Smiley can't meet the standards set by Sir Alec.  The choice of Gary Oldman seems awkward when considering the junkie cop from "The Professionnal" or the dog-morphing wizard who escaped Azkaban. But Oldman, deservedly one of the greatest chameleons of his generations, goes as far as making us wish we'd see him done the lightsaber and advise a couple of stormtroopers to look for those droids elsewhere. He makes the character entirely his own, while never forgetting who played it before him. This IS George Smiley, but underneath the confident yet distanced old man we can glimpse under his eyes a cold calculating bastard no one would ever wish to go one on one with.

"I can't go when you're looking at me"...

And Gare-bear isn't left alone to his own device, here surrounded by an head-spinning array of very cool names and/or talents, all of them A-list leading men in their own rights, here mostly assigned to small roles that each of them make pivotal and unforgettable. Ciaran Hinds as a silent doorstop, John Hurt as a once-important man now on the fringes of senelity, Toby Jones as slef-important weasel, Tom Hardy as a blond - yes, BLOND- disgruntled spy, Benedict Cumberbatch as a white collar you wouldn't wanna mess with and newly-minted superstar Colin Firth as an unrepentant adulterer all make this small film into an incredibly huge deal. 

As for the story, of course things have to be cut or radically compressed to fit a fluvial book into a 2-hour film, yet little of it is truly missed here if only to make the plot a little more clear. Tomas Alfredson, still hot-off the press from his acclaimed offering of Let the Right One In (the original one, that is...) very wisely used the Cold War as a character and not a setting, which allows his actors to truly carry the atmosphere and use wits and verbs as lethally as Jason Bourne can use a fountain pen as a jackknife. Pyrotechnics, CGI and tween heartthrobs never appeared so useless as they do here, in a clear and definite exposé of why turds movies like Transformers or Twilight can never truly dislodge true, riveting storytelling at its best

Final Word: 9/10

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