Genre: Spy Drama/Conspiracy Thriller.
Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Hardy, David Dencik, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, John Hurt and Kathy Burke.
Running Time/Duration: 127 mins. Approx.
Seen At: Parrs Wood Cinemas, Didsbury.
On: Saturday, 17th September, 2011.
Over thirty years since the much-loved 1979 TV series was originally transmitted, the highly-anticipated film version now arrives in cinemas. Based on John le Carre’s extraordinarily labyrinthine novel of rouge espionage, it centres around the morally ambiguous George Smiley, first immortalised by Sir Alec Guinness.
The year is 1973, and Smiley is brought out of retirement, to help root out a mole, who’s infiltrated their way into the ‘circus’: the then-codename for the Headquarters of the MI6 British Secret Service. It’s up to Smiley to deduce who the culprit of this betrayal is, before their web of deceit closes in...
The novel, whilst entertaining, I found as heavy as lead, convoluting between the present and flashbacks.
Thankfully however, this adaptation is, quite simply, stunning from beginning to end. It’s challenging certainly, but never in a frustrating or confusing way, but rather utilising the far cleverer, more perplexing method of luring its audience in slowly, and gradually unfolding. It is, in its own slow-burning way absolutely gripping.
Each of the characters, whether they be the potential suspects or not, are wonderfully well-drawn and distinctive. Mark Strong’s tragic Jim Prideaux, David Dencik as the conflicted, supposed loyalist Toby Esterhase, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Guillam, the squeaky-clean pretty-boy, who, like all of the characters on display, may just be hiding a deep dark secret…
The head of the circus, known elusively only as Control, seeks Smiley’s aid in uncovering the identity of MI6’s: ‘rotten apple’ – it is one of five men, each appointed with a respective single-word codename, to which the film’s title refers...
The choice of director here is unusual. Tomas Alfredson burst onto the scene a couple of years ago with the foreign-language vampire-romance shocker Let The Right One In. This, his debut into not only mainstream but also English-speaking filmmaking, makes for a radical change of pace.
Artistically, the film is a triumph. The attention to period detail is extraordinary, whether it be from the click of a typewriter, or the whirl of smoke from one of the tireless worker’s cigarettes. The overall aesthetic, this edgy, drab, downtrodden look that envelopes almost every shot, is one that ingeniously evokes a crumbling, rain-lashed, almost post-Dickensian vision of early nineteen-seventies London, only serving to further authenticate the reality of the spy profession for the actors.
A searing shot of colour is injected in the absolutely electrifying scenes which see each of the agency’s men seated in a boardroom lit by a fluorescent gold egg-box-esque wall. You can almost hear the inner-working of each of the suspect’s ‘little grey cells’ working overtime, as they are interrogated by John Hurt’s prickly Control. The atmosphere emitted from this film throughout, is tantalisingly intense and palpable with tension.
The cherry on this crème-da-la-crème cake of British acting talent, is most certainly Gary Oldman’s meteoric landmark performance as Smiley. Menacing, cold, and quietly terrifying, he is a monstrous, striking presence on screen. If Alec Guinness’s interpretation of the character was of a man you’d instantly forget, then Oldman’s is of a shady, antiheroic manipulator you wouldn’t trust an inch. Yet, he’s always understated, portrayed by Oldman as an observing, insular figure. The key is locked in Oldman’s great capacity for subtle nuances – his posture in a chair, or the fractional readjustment of his glasses. It is his best ever performance – surely an Oscar-nomination for Oldman – the ultimate character-actor, often known for taking on even dangerous roles, is long overdue.
The other two standout supporting roles come from Colin Firth as Bill Haydon, and fantastic rising star Tom Hardy, terrific as the rough and ready defector Ricki Tarr - the scenes in which he travels to Istanbul only to uncover the torturous treatment of his girlfriend are hugely powerful. The film’s occasional spurts of bloody violence, sparse as they are, are made all the more shocking by the fact that they are so brief. This doesn’t embody the blockbusting, action-packed, special effects laden qualities of a fantastical Bond film – it’s a complex, intellectual and supremely crafted adult thriller.
My only observation more than a criticism, is that there are only ever two women in the entire film. However, one of them is brilliant - it’s wonderful to see Kathy Burke acting again, looking so different than in her usual comedic roles, as Connie Sachs, the shunted former employee with a weakness for a small tot of sherry and a filthy vernacular, with one particularly rude line of dialogue especially amusing.
In the film’s tone, as dark, murky and serious as it is, the screenplay hasn’t left out the important element of humour, in either the Christmas party scenes, (which feature a cameo from le Carre himself), or during an insight into the audit interpreter’s choice of relaxing listening – in this case being a George Formby rendition of Mr. Woo).
The musical score – almost hypnotic in its ability to draw you in immediately, also features two great songs – Sammy Davis Jr.’s Second Best Secret Agent (played, again in the Christmas party scene, and Julio Iglesias’s La Mer, at the very end of an emotional dénouement, once the mole has been identified.
This really should do brilliantly in next year’s awards season, with Alfredson, Oldman, Firth, Hurt, Hardy and Burke all fully deserving of recognition.
Not only is this the film event of the year, it’s also the undisputed best film of the year. I hope it receives all the golden masks, globes and statuettes it deserves.
A classy, near-faultless adaptation of a classic, has now become an instant classic all of its own. A twisty, classy whodunit, almost red-hot to the touch with suspense, that’ll keep you guessing who the perpetrator is until the final moment.
Utterly absorbing and truly outstanding.