Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Review

By David Salazar

If you watched this trailer:

Do yourself a favor now and forget about it.

The story presented in the trailer is certainly the same as that of the film, but with a huge caveat. The trailer pitches the film as a high octane spy thriller, something which I can confidently state that it isn't. If you are expecting action, fast paced thrills, and a relaxed journey, then this film isn't for you.

But if you are expecting a tense, calculated, complex jigsaw puzzle that requires your utmost attention at all times, then this is certainly the film for you.

Director Thomas Alfredson constructs what I believe to be one of the most complex yet polished films of the year. Every layer of this film, its story, its characters, its visuals, its music (even its title) are all individual puzzles that give a great deal of information, but also withhold enough to demand the audience's intellectual involvement. Alfredson's decision for slow pacing aids in making sure that no one falls too far behind in the film's endless entanglements.

So what exactly is the film about? For those not up to speed, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" tells the story of "The Circus," England's highest intelligence agency. Control (John Hurt), the head of said agency, suspects a Russian Mole among his closest advisers and acts to reveal him. Unfortunately, the agent he sends to Hungary to make said discovery is killed and in the ensuing chaos, Control and his right hand man Smiley (Gary Oldman) are ousted from the Circus. When the idea of the mole is later brought up once more, Smiley is contracted to reveal him. What follows is this year's most complex and intriguing mystery. The complexity of this film and its characters makes the "Girl with The Dragon Tatoo" look like a children's mystery by comparison.

The film is anchored by a fine turn by Gary Oldman, who does not actually get as much screen time as one may expect from a leading role. It seems like a foregone conclusion that Oldman's fine thespian abilities will go another year without a look from the Academy, but in my opinion this is unmerited. Oldman's performance as Smiley is a quiet one (and on initial observation, a rather expressionless one) as he plays an agent in complete control of everything around him both externally and internally, despite father time's increasing effect and his increasing loneliness. His wife has left him (after cheating on him), and his main mission is to essentially betray and oust the only friends he's ever really had. The frustration, the melancholy, the anguish, the determination, the strength, and the courage are all there on exhibit in Oldman's eyes, but only for those that take the time (as with the rest of the film) to watch intently and carefully.

Oldman is flanked by an all-star cast of men that only add to the intensity and variety of the proceedings. Fresh off his Oscar Win as a heart-warming King, Colin Firth plays Bill Haydon (the man with whom Smiley's wife cheats) as a polar opposite, cold calculated and yet charismatic. Percy Alleline, played by Toby Jones, is not quite as heart-warming, but certainly has the attitude and presence of a goon. Bendict Cumberbatch plays Smiley's main sidekick Peter Guillam with the same degree of control and calculation as his other comrades, but seems to soften and weaken as the situation grows in intensity. Michael Fassbender was originally the plan for Ricky Tarr, but Tom Hardy ended up being the final choice when scheduling issues arose with Fassbender. Hardy adds a nice counterpoint to the rest of the film's cast as an emotional canon ready to fire at any turn. The rest of the massive cast fills out the film's stark and nostalgic feel rather well.

From a technical standpoint, this film is a marvel with its gorgeous production design, its intricate cinematography, and its eerie score.  From its opening sequences, one gets the sense of the cold war period, where friendship, trust, security have all been destroyed. Nothing is as it seems as the surprising rack focus shots littered throughout will reveal or the intrusive score will perpetuate.

The spy thriller usually centers on characters attempting to decipher a mystery. However, Alfredson has taken this convention and turned it on its head by transforming every aspect of his film into one giant mystery. As I've stated before, every single piece is a puzzle onto its own, demanding its audience to not only follow along but to put together the pieces as well. Unlike many films that spoon feed its audience, Alfredson assumes that the viewers are intelligent and more than capable of discerning for themselves. He clearly respects his audience, and that can only encourage utmost respect in turn.

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