For Reel

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
January 8, 2012, 3:04 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Tomas Alfredson

The 60s spy thrillers of author John le Carré, a former British MI5 and MI6 agent, were far from Bond. Their narratives were rife with morale ambiguities, often carrying a greater interest in psychological than physical action. The first filmed adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, written in 1974 and among le Carré’s best known works, was a BBC miniseries from 1979 starring Alec Guinness. Perhaps that was the medium most suited for a novel this dense – though it is never hard to keep up with the drama of director Tomas Alfredson’s English-language debut, certain plot details are easy to miss. In other ways, however, the clearly truncated narrative serves the film well. The four central suspects – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, and Poor Man – aren’t given back stories, which is alienating in a way that is fitting for a picture in which Alfredson deliberately doesn’t allow the audience to be comfortable with anybody. With muted lighting, a color palette limited to browns and grays, and a memorable attention to period detail – the space in which the British intelligence meets is unforgettable if only for the wallpaper – the picture’s tone is enchanting. Alfredson’s style relies as much on the specificity of his aesthetic as it does the minimalist performances and, with long, slow tracking shots and close-ups of still faces, late-Cold War era England carries a dreamlike weight, an effect that places the viewer deep within George Smiley’s weary soul.

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