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One of the highlights I remember watching in the early eighties was Alec Guinness as George Smiley in the TV adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Having only really seen Guinness in the Star Wars trilogy, this bought home that the actor could do far more than give a kid advice about the Force! The series was full on to say the least and spread over six 30 minutes parts. It was great pleasure that I watched the new film and given the fact that Gary Oldman now plays the role of Smiley then it only raised the bar even further.
The plot is simple, inside the organisation referred to as "The Circus" it has been determined that there is a mole, who is a double agent relaying information about British Secret Service to competitors. Smiley is bought back in from retirement to conduct an investigation on a number of people who are suspected of being the mole. What is interesting is how this is done and how the film deals with this is key to the sheer quality of the production. Set in the early eighties this can easily be seen a period piece as their isn't a mobile phone or computer in the film at all and this makes it a little harder for the audience to understand who is the victim and who is the bad guy and because of the lack of technology in the film manages to settle outside the comfort zone completely and turns the story into a rollercoaster rather than a flat road in terms of suspense.
Oldman takes the role of Smiley and builds it to make its his own. Appearance wise he is grey haired and dressed in a manner that befits the Civil Service completely. He speaks like he was in private education and yet has manages to provide enough calm to ask someone to go "into the Lions den" for his country without remorse. Oldman's character is also hard done by as he has recently been retired at a moments notice and life has become rather hum-drum. This is nicely shown on screen as there are scenes with Smiley just at home staring at a painting on his wall. You get the impression he is lost in the world, until he is asked to return. From here on there are a number of flashbacks and the clever manner in which these are identified is simply the type of glasses that Smiley wears to determine if the scene is set in the past or the present. The cast of the film are in the majority British and also mainly male, yet Kathy Burke makes a screen presence with Smiley that shows how far she has moved on from Kevin and Perry. Other cast members include Mark strong, Colin Firth, Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch and John Hurt playing the part of Control, Head of The Circus. Also Tom Hardy must get a mention in his quite central role in the story as well. The cast have all been given equal parts in the story and all play a part, mainly because they are all suspects in the game. One thing that I though about when watching was that the film could unfold like an episode of Columbo, yet it doesn't by any means become one man trying to catch out the guest star of the show. This is simply put a story of a man whose good at his job being bought in to root out a problem.
With the sheer lack of technology in the film means that a strong foundation of acting is achieved and so the tension and suspense automatically get upped a notch and as the film evolves there are strong emotions shown on screen whether regret, remorse for ones actions or even joy, which is something that is seen in this film on the rarest of occasions. Tension is something that Cumberbatch's character shows when in the archives retrieving a log for Smiley. This is pivotal to the story yet the set design is so detailed that you see endless rows of shelving and folders upon folders, which these days would simply be scanned if necessary. This dates the film somewhat yet the fashions of the day have replicated in quite a tasteful and not over the top manner that shows of the cuts of the suit and the colours such as beige as well as the rather sparse office layouts in well secured buildings in London that the passerby wouldn't even notice from the pavement outside. Its also the colours used that project a rather morbid office as well, not so much pastels as more colours in rooms that were left over from the seventies and have yet to be decorated, one party scene set at Christmas reminded me a lot of my school given the décor and the lighting. In some places it reminded me of a family wedding, yet this was the perfect reflection of a government office at the time the film is set.
I'm not saying the plot is easy to follow as it does tackle a number of Taboo subjects at the time the film is set, yet the story and its natural progress manages to drop a smoke screen as the film grows and so the film has to be watched in detail to ensure you are getting the full facts of what is being shown on-screen and with the flashbacks being used to effectively muddle the story you do find that the flashbacks are cleverly used to move the story in whatever direction by what is seen in these to propel or twist the story for whatever needs as necessary. The story does go down to a granular level and it is quite shocking at points by the revelation that has been uncovered or even proposed, each of the suspects are fleshed out and what appears a simple piece of diversion can lead to a Pandora's Box of repercussions and so it can easily be said that this is a thriller of the old-fashioned variety, no car chases, tight dialogue. It does have a running theme of relationships throughout the film and so the repercussions are felt at the family level and we see how they are dealt with.
I felt that it was better to see this on Blu-ray just for the colours used in the film, it does come over as a smooth piece of British cinema and this format does deliver the quality of the production and is a sheer joy to watch. Extras wise the tin-box version that I purchased has just the same extras as the normal Blu-ray box design yet the extras do give an overview of George Smiley as well as interviews with the cast and author John LaCarre, writer of the original novel which the film is based on, also included are Deleted Scenes and documentaries about the production of the film. A lot of information is contained in the extras and I would advise watching the film first before the extras as there are spoilers of the highest nature.
Overall this is a highly entertaining film, there are no Bond-style gadgets and this is purely a spy thriller in a whodunit style rather than a mad man taking over the world and although the film has that claustrophobic feel and has an intentional dullness to it, it does have a wide scope in where the film goes and how we get there. The novel could easily be a basis for a forerunner to Spooks seeing as its set within MI6 and the premise is quite simple and the setting grounded yet the suspense the film generates is second to none, and while the pace is somewhat held back throughout the pressure builds as we reach the climax of the story. Be aware this is not a Saturday night blockbuster and on this occasion you will need you're your brain engaged to follow this film.