When it comes to the spy genre, James Bond rules the roost. With the Bond 50 collection of the entirety of the Bond film franchise now available for a costly purchase in stores everywhere, everyone and their mothers have the ability to go through and re-visit one of the greatest film franchises that we have today. However, over the past handful of years, one spy film has stood head and shoulders above the rest, and it’s from an entirely different literary canon.
Coming to us from the collective mind of Jonh le Carre (the author whose book is the source material for this film adaptation) and director Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not only one of the best titled films of recent memory (let’s just say the title of that book is damn good, for a handful of reasons), but it’s also one of the most interesting ‘thrillers’ to come along in years. Featuring a brilliant cast of the UK’s greatest character actors, all led by the never better Gary Oldman, TTSS is the epitome of an anti-thriller spy drama, basically to MI6 dramas what Zodiac is to serial killer films, and it’s one of the greatest novel adaptations of this still very young decade.
The cast here is as impeccable as they come. Led by Oldman, each and every actor involved gives some of their best work to date. Oldman plays the lead character, George Smiley, a vet of the MI6 world in the UK. Coming out of retirement for one last gig, he must use his skills to find out just who is the Soviet mole within her Majesty’s secret service. The film itself is intensely muted, in both directorial style and also color palette, but nowhere may the film be more effectively quiet than in Oldman’s understated yet absolutely breathtaking performance. As a film about espionage and government agents, the film is inherenty fueled by wayward looks and people’s reactions to things, and Oldman’s face, in all of its age, is beyond perceptive to emotion. It’s a beautifully restrained performance, but there is always a sense of fire under the surface. Truly a beautiful performance, Oldman leads an admittedly great cast.
And that cast includes the likes of Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Ciarian Hinds, Tom Hardy and the always great Benedict Cumberbatch. Jones, Firth, Hinds and John Hurt make the center of the bureaucracy involved here, all of whom seem to be second guessing each other with just about every word said. Toss in the pair of youngsters Hardy and Cumberbatch, and you have a film that is such an interesting blend of experience and youthful fire that it’s an absolute joy to watch. The latter two are particularly great here, adding quite a bit of depth to an otherwise dreary drama of words and looks. They are quite engaging, and are involved in some of the film’s most thrilling moments.
Alfredson is also no slouch. Coming after his beloved Let The Right One In, TTSS is an icy cold thriller with stunning and admittedly muffled cinematography that when blended with Alberto Iglesias’ brilliant and piercing score makes for one of the most tense dramas that you’ll find from this generation of chilly thrillers. Taking the blunt visual storytelling that Alfredson found within Right One and expanding into a world so built on staying stern and frozen makes him a perfect filmmaker to take on this type of narrative, the various espionage setpieces that he crafts here are every bit as thrilling as any chase sequence out of James Bond film, if not more so because instead of a caricature, we are dealing with understated and extremely human performances here.
Inherently a character picture, the film blends perfect performances with a director at the tip top of his game and a composer who crafts a masterpiece of a cinematic composition to create what is one of the year past’s greatest films. A tad stilted and admittedly cold almost to a fault, the film won’t hit with every viewer, but those willing to jump right into the iced waters of George Smiley’s MI6 will be rewarded with an absolute masterpiece.