Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy (2011)
Cold War espionage has always been a movie favourite, and especially during the pinnacle of such activities in the 1970s. There were high-profile agents exposed as Soviet spies in most western countries, including my own. And few were better equipped to write espionage fiction than former British intelligence officer John Le Carré. His novel "Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy" from 1974 chronicles the denouement of a Soviet mole inside the heart of the British Intelligence, and in 1979 this novel was successfully adapted into a seven-part mini-series for the BBC.
When Swedish director Tomas Alfredsson meticulously tries to cram this complex and talkative story into a two-hour contemporary film, it doesn't feel all that significant any more, despite the fact that it's all done with a great deal of perspective and with a stellar cast. As with his previous film, the masterstroke Låt den rätte komma in, Alfredsson is out to bring us vividly back to the 1970s, and the London in Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy is a London full of nostalgia, from the grey colour palette and right down to the beige Citroën DS the agents drive around in. Unfortunately, it seems that style has been of more importance to the filmmakers than has substance, because the story is not told with any kind of urgency, not given the revitalization it sorely needs. In a time of instant exposure, Internet and WikiLeaks, phone tapping, attaché cases and filing cabinets seem outlandish and bleak, especially when the film doesn't find it necessary to provide much in terms of background and context. I believe that this, along with the film's thick forest of characters, will alienate viewers who have not read the book, not to speak of younger viewers who weren't even around during the Cold War.
Gary Oldman has been hailed for his performance as George Smiley, even receiving a much overdue Academy Award nomination. I've been advocating him for such an award for almost two decades now, but although his performance here is interesting, canny and aptly convoluted, it is nothing compared to Oldman's best work. His George Smiley works more as a symbol for the insignificance he represents, his dying race, than as an engaging protagonist. And when the mole is finally revealed and taken care of, the inanity he and those who revealed him embody creates and anticlimax befitting the irrelevance of Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy. The intrigues, tragic fates and political chess games are there, but Alfredsson has hidden them well underneath his 70s nostalgia and dense narrative style.