#16: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Drama, Thriller
2h7min; R

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Even if you watch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with cat-like precision and vigilance you won’t figure it out the first time around, assuming you haven’t read John Le Carre’s 1974 spy thriller. I actually haven’t but I’m going to very soon. Tomas Alfredson’s tightly wound icebox of an espionage film deserves multiple viewings- I’ve watched it twice this year alone and a few other times since its 2011 release- and it is one of those increasingly rare pictures in which you find something new every time. It is also a rarer horse in an even smaller stable of contemporary films that appear as if they were made in the glory decade of the 1970s.

The film centers around the hunt for a mole in the top circle of MI6 in 1974. After a mission in Budapest goes tits up and an MI6 operative (Mark Strong in his finest role) is killed the head of the organization (John Hurt) and his right-hand man (Gary Oldman) are chucked out. Nuclear war with Soviet Russia is brewing and the British Secret Service is looking to break into the world of espionage in a big way with a top secret new spy program codenamed Witchcraft. When a rogue agent (Tom Hardy) turns up with a tip- that the Soviet mole is still active- Oldman’s Smiley is brought back in to flush the rat out before MI6 is utterly undone.

Everyone here deserves awards and that’s a rarity.

As Smiley, Oldman wears a suit like a retired James Bond. He is quietly suave but watchful, not a blunt instrument but a cold creature patiently waiting for another silent predator to make a mistake. There is a moment with a fly buzzing around in a car. It bothers Smiley’s driver but Smiley simply observes. He doesn’t mind the fly on the wall because he is one. Oldman is famous for going off the rails with his roles but this is one of the most reserved, muted performances he has ever given and as he dives deeper into the black hole of secrets and lies you become lost with him.

Tinker Tailor boasts one of the best ensembles of the decade: Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, John Hurt, Ciarin Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy, to name a few. While women play a role this is a man’s film about friends- and lovers- breaking one another’s hearts and it’s fucking fascinating. Hurt is lovely as MI6’s chief Control, Jones is a cold bastard- a servant of Witchcraft out to make his mark, as are they all, working a McCarthy-esque grip around the throat of the circus- and Strong is perhaps the best he has ever been playing Jim Prideaux, the agent sent to Budapest. Everyone here deserves awards and that is a rarity.

Hoyt Van Hoytema- cinematographer for Interstellar and Spectre– dares you to look in the shadows in the corners as his lens slowly closes in on the faces of people who are all guilty for one thing or another. The sense that hippy culture is looming, unaware of the armageddon that could happen any day, is introduced next to the feeling that Smiley is a man of another era brought in to complete the proverbial one last job. The dimly lit hotel room in which Smiley tells a story with the help of only an empty chair is a wonder of light and shadow- and acting- and is the stand out piece in a film that looks as cold as the period in which it is set. You won’t be able to see anyone straight until the film’s final 5 minutes and even once the film is over you will be questioning everything. This is the best espionage film of the decade (name another) and one of the finest films to come out in the last 10 years. Go watch it now.

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