Swedish director Tomas Alfredson exploded onto the international scene in 2007 with his unsettling child vampire flick, ‘Let the Right One In.’ In that film, he took a rather implausible premise and turned it into one of the more unsettling horror films of recent memory.
Pushing forward into the realm of the improbable, Alfredson unveils his surefooted adaptation of John Le Carre’s unfilmable novel “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (the only other adaptation of the book is the famous seven-hour long BBC series that starred Alec Guiness).
Working with an A-list of British actors, including John Hurt, Colin Firth, Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy, Alfredson had made a surprisingly melancholy espionage thriller about a lonely group of intelligence men at the height of the Cold War. For this reason, it seems unfair to judge “Tinker, Tailor” by the standards of other recent spy films. Its deliberate pacing, tight ensemble cast and cerebral quality make it a stark counterweight to “Casino Royale.” In visual terms, it is also the polar opposite of the Bond franchise. The Cold War world that the film conjures is impeccably replicated and artfully drained of color. The locations it spans–from London to Budapest to Istanbul and Paris–are both instantly identifiable and vaguely anonymous. Like the film’s weary protagonists, the cities seem used-up, neglected and disappointed.
The ingenious screenplay by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan condenses the novel’s maze-like structure into a single story line. Le Carre’s hero, George Smiley (Oldman), is coaxed out of retirement to track down a Soviet mole in the highest echelon of the British secret service. Oldman’s magnificently understated performance is one of his best ever. Behind his dark framed glasses, his eyes twinkle with a cool intensity and intelligence.
Slick and graceful, the film has such a musical sweep–indeed, the camera is virtually never at rest–that the only thing that feels slightly amiss is that the final revelation comes too soon. But then again, the film isn’t about a thousand twists and turns or keeping you on the edge of your seat waiting for a bloody showdown. “Tinker Tailor” doesn’t so much keep you guessing as it tightens the coil slowly and methodically. This is a thinking man’s espionage epic that rewards patience and attention to detail.