Oldman plays George Smiley as a quiet, recently( forcibly) retired spy tasked with finding out which one of his former colleagues is a mole. Although the plot is cosmetically a whodunit, by the time the credits roll that ‘who’ seems almost irrelevant. What lingers is the characters, the paranoia and the interpersonal tragedy. That isn’t to say there aren’t moments that play out like a more traditional thriller. Violence arrives suddenly, noisily and messily; always uneasy and never glamourised. Gutted bodies lie in bath tubs framed by a dispassionate camera like a David Lynch film. Not bad for something the hordes of anonymous internet cretins have labelled as ‘boring’.
The screenplay by Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O’Connor distils John Le Carre’s source novel masterfully; condensing the plot while allowing the film to breathe. If there’s any justice in the world (and there isn’t) then they’ll win the Oscar. Similarly if Mr Oscar suddenly gains an inch of sense then they’ll also reward Gary Oldman. There isn’t a line reading or glance which he doesn’t nail like a laser guided nail gun. For the first part of the film he barely even speaks, doing all his acting with his eyes and hands and that but then when he does speak it goes like dambusters. I was convinced that there was a flashback scene showing Smiley meeting an important Russian agent but watching it again the scene is in fact just the man talking. Oldman’s performance sells it totally and is a thing of cinematic magic.
The supporting cast is an embarrassment of riches from Sherlock of the moment Benedict Cumberbatch to Oscar laureate Colin Firth, all the way through to Dobby the House Elf (Toby Jones). Oh and John Hurt, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Stephen Graham, Kathy Burke, Ciarán Hinds and Trigger from Only Fools and Horses. Although this could have been an overacting competition, no one performance overwhelms any other. Instead they work in tandem like a thesbian ecosystem.
What is most remarkable is that the film got made at all. In the current multiplex environment, mainstream films which don’t assume the audience are a pack of jabbering morons are a rarity, as are those with the courage to be slow paced and to pride character over robots, or even to have no robots at all. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a must watch for absolutely anyone and whoever says it’s boring is wrong.
The Blu Ray does the the trick technical-wise. The picture quality is crisp and is very true to the cool, mute cinematography. Some unwanted grain in a couple of scenes but nothing to write home about. Great facial detail in close ups. The extras are unfortunately a bit of a mixed bag. A fine commentary from the director and Oldman coupled with an excellent and very revealing interview with Le Carre are the real meat of the package. Interviews with the actors are fine, providing some intriguing nuggets of info amongst the usual great-to-work-with-everyone chaff. These are, however, rather clumsily edited together with big captions stating the questions before the answers. Deleted scenes are fun, my favourite being an unbroken shot of Smiley cooking and eating a fried egg – none can accuse the film of being boring now can they? Elsewhere the featurettes and ‘Sky Movies’ special are really disappointing press kit-type fluff. Given the historic basis of the story and the pedigree of the talent involved there’s the opportunity here for a really good documentary. An opportunity which has been squandered. (3)