I don’t want to write too much about “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” right now because, point blank, I want to see it again and digest and — gasp! — consider. For now, though, I’ll start with this: It’s an impeccably made, satisfyingly dense piece of work from director Tomas Alfredson. It’s the rare film that is a slow burn but nevertheless moves along at a clip, with a very well-honed editorial sense, I might add.
The thing is, I saddled up to the film this afternoon without knowing the source material or bothering to investigate it much. I’ve never read John le Carre’s novel (I will) and I haven’t seen the 1979 British mini-series starring Alec Guiness (I will). And the vibe I get is it would be helpful to come to the new film with a modicum of knowledge on that, but it’s no less satisfying. It just means a second look is in order, and I’m all for it, because you come away with an extreme reverence for craft here.
Guy saw the film on a rainy day in Venice and offered a perfectly-reasoned take. As I go back and read through it for the first time now, I see it matches my own quite closely. One thing he brought up was the production design from Maria Djurkovic, and while that might not be the sexiest element to start in on, it was nevertheless one of the big takeaways for me here.
Each environment is so meticulously decorated to at times staggeringly profound thematic levels. Whether it’s a dismantled parade dragon in the street, a room of boxed-in chandeliers across from London’s Parliament or the sound-proofed conference room of Britain’s MI6, aka the Circus, the design of the film is telling the story just as much as the writing, Alfredson’s direction or the incredible ensemble performance.
Hoyte Van Hoytema’s camera captures these sets and everything that populates them with an icy objectivity, while Dino Jonsäter’s film editing, as mentioned, makes this complex yarn glide effortlessly along, smartly offering just enough to push forward and yet dialing it back for the performances to take center stage in quieter moments when necessary.
And on those performances — well, where to begin? I’m already getting into a higher word count than I wanted, but let me say Gary Oldman conveys tightly wound awareness and cool collection with equal measure, giving one of his most restrained yet affecting performances to date.
The vast ensemble is littered with highlights, and while I agree with Guy that Tom Hardy’s work is noteworthy for its knowing intelligence and breezy casualness, I was most taken by Benedict Cumberbatch’s peaks and valleys. The actor — who pops up in three films this year — balances gripping paranoia and tension one moment while emoting heart-wrenching loss the next.
Wait, Mark Strong also deserves to be singled out, but enough. I want to sit on it a bit more, give it another look and circle back around. I’m sure Focus would rather string this out a bit given that the US release is two months out, but the film has already landed in the UK, so if there are any Brits who’d like to join in here, feel free to engage in the comments section. More from me on it as we push through the season.