Friday, June 29, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson)

Smile, Smiley.

In "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", the reality of Cold War espionage has never been as coldly depicted. It's a film that's really intended to be emotionally distant from its viewers so that it can properly highlight the alienating undertakings that Cold War master spies have undergone themselves for a great 30 years or so for the sake of information supremacy. 

One of them is George Smiley, played by the ever-chameleon-like Gary Oldman in one of his most uncanny performances in a non-villain role, a master spy who is forced out of retirement to seek out a mole buried deep within the Circus' (the jargon for British Intelligence) ranks. What follows is a tensely complex story of half-baked allegiances, harsh inner rank politics and, looking at the bigger historical picture, the futility of it all. 

Oldman, a great actor known for his nerve-racking energy on-screen, is successfully sublime and grounded with his portrayal of Smiley. Despite of the lack of human warmth in the whole film, Oldman is able enough to capture the essence of Smiley's anxious humanity without being either too brooding or self-reflective. Here is a character and a man who is motivated not by his family and forced to act not by the pressures of those around him in the service but by a seemingly obsolete code of samurai-like proportions. He is compelled to do so because he believes there's still an enormously unfinished chess puzzle of fates between him and Karla, the mysterious Soviet spymaster that is both deceptive and brutal. In a tense world whose morality and loyalty is turning ever grayer by the minute, Smiley still believes in a black and white.

But then, finding the mole is a very tricky mission. He needs to go through a lot of red tape to arrive at something. Among the ones that Smiley must monitor (as potential leakers) are Alleline (the underrated Toby Jones), the Circus chief, and Haydon (Colin Firth), a superior intelligence officer that's having an illicit affair with Smiley's wife. 

With such great actors effortlessly horsing around with their respective characters, one can easily see the success of this film as a great acting ensemble. Add up talented young actors Mark Strong and Tom Hardy in the mix as the Circus' globe-trotting pawns and we've got ourselves a hell of a film. Oh, and did I mention that John Hurt is also in it? 

But then again, with the film capitalizing on natural overall silence as if to truly simulate the quiet intrigue of genuine espionage, "Tinker Tailor Solider Spy" gets its sustaining power not just from the actors but from the very material itself. Adapted from John le Carre's novel, which I'm more than tempted in buying from our local bookstore so that I can read it first before watching this (but never did), the film has captured the nervous essence, with its pale-colored cinematography that heightens the disillusioning effect, of the reality of spying without much glitter but full of quiet power.

To be exact, I have never witnessed such an intriguing 'backstage pass' of a film ever since, well, maybe Scorsese's "Casino". "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" is a rare film that does not indulge on cheap thrills just so it can maintain some sort of energetic flair in its narrative. Instead, it is a film with a great fly on the wall perspective that is as compelling and as frightening as the characters that populate it and the locations that make it whole. Director Tomas Alfredson is very commendable for not going overboard on some of the characters or faltering in the story department. 

Now, if some may want to argue that "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" is as cold as a walk-in freezer and that it will make you want to leave the second you enter it, then the film has succeeded. Its goal is not to sensationalize or commodify the reality of Cold War espionage for the general public but to render it as a cinematic mood, and it's your choice to either accept it as it is or not. But judging from its box-office returns, it's quite obvious that the film has compelled rather than disgust, and for that, the film is utterly effective and, in some ways, vindicated. 

"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" may just be fiction, but in the end, it's a story worthy of being told. It makes me want to grab that gargantuan "Smiley Versus Karla" compilation in our nearby bookstore, and fast. James Bond's great antithesis has finally arrived.


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