Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - A tough nut to crack

Jan 03, 2012, 10:03 IST | Johnson Thomas

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Thriller; A
Cast: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Ciarrin Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Simon McBurney, Konstantin Khabenskiv, Laura Carmichael
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Rating:  * * *

A still from the movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

For those avid readers of John Le Carre's tomes, this film is most likely to be like manna from heaven but for others who don't, it will be a tough-to-crack dark spy thriller with great mood , moments, visuals  but uneasy on the coherence.

Helmer Tomas Alfredson's technique is highly individualistic, his complex treatment well-aligned with the complicated spy-thriller bestseller and therefore highly stimulating to the senses - but that's only if you are inclined to sit through the entire film with your brain working overtime to decipher the conversation and clues thereof.

Scripted with precision by Peter Straughan (The Men Who Stare at Goats) and his late wife Bridget O'Connor (Mrs. Ratcliffe's Revolution), Alfredson's consummate narrative progresses with understated tension within a 120 odd minutes runtime.

In fact, the run of the narrative is as faithful as it can get, to the highly complex and eventful John Le Carre's 1979 novel that spawned a successful seven part mini-series on television with Alec Guiness playing Smiley.

The events remain unchanged but its flow has been tweaked and so have the locations.M16 is under threat, signs of a mole passing off crucial highly classified security information to the Russian side has suddenly been confirmed. The ex-Control's (John Hurt) warnings now seem prophetic.

The Under Secretary Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney) recruits Smiley, a retired M16 operative who worked well with the Circus's head before they assumed retirement.

The clinching information comes from Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) whose liaison with a soviet spy Irina (Svetlana Khodchenkova) leads him to irrefutable clues of a mole.

Using Circus agent, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) considerable talents, Smiley begins the process of ferreting out the mole. Control had sent field agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) on a secret mission to Budapest in an effort to uncover the mole but the mission ended with blood on his hands and his career was essentially over after that.

The narrative begins with that episode and then moves on to Smiley's search.

In a flashback we are told that Control had essentially codenamed the five suspects according to an old nursery rhyme- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Poorman and Beggarman and it's now Smiley's turn to use those codes to crack the case!

Since Le Carre's novel is laden with verbosity, it wasn't possible for a literal translation into celluloid. So the scriptwriters did the next best thing by cutting out most of the dialogues while creating visual clues that link incidents together and allow for a richer involvement without over-stepping on action set pieces or blood and gore.

The treatment therefore appears quite quaint, understated and old-fashioned in an era that prides itself on excess.

The mood is melancholic, the crucial faces within the underplayed hysteria signifying remembered sorrow and pain. Oldman, Cumberbatch, Firth, Hurt, Kathy Burke, Hardy, Khodchenkova, Strong, all contribute to a brilliantly cast ensemble that lends strength and gravity to a narrative that avoids the obvious, making a play for a more restrained fulfillment.

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