Trust no one. Suspect everyone. It's good advice, and something the head of UK intelligence, a nervous creature code-named Control (John Hurt) took very seriously. Of the position that his department had been infiltrated by the Soviets, he brings a reluctant George Smiley (Gary Oldman) out of retirement to root out a Russian mole before he trips another 'Budapest' incident. It was a decision that came at a hefty price, another kind of retirement, as this strikingly masterful tale of the Cold War at its coldest, begins.

Based on John Le Carre's definitive novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a now familiar yarn, its essence having been transported through films such as The Debt and Red to greater or lesser success. A landmark TV series in the late 70's, Tomas Alfredson has recreated the story as a landmark film in which Oldman steps into the role played by Sir Alec Guinness and claims it for himself. As an masterclass in minimalism, Oldman's Smiley is one of this distinguished actor's finest roles.

He has a lot to work with, not least of which is a breathtaking ensemble that includes a note perfect Colin Firth alongside Hurt, Mark Strong, Ciarin Hinds, Toby Jones, Kathy Burke and Benedict Cumberpatch. Immersed in stunning design, lighting and cinematography that perfectly recreates Le Carre's now seemingly impossible world of iron curtains and valve radios, they work in a heavy world of repressive brown and paranoid beige. Bridget O'Connor's gripping script is a work of lean muscle although one not easily followed: she demands formidable cerebral dexterity if you're going to keep up with who's doing what to who and why.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an alarming narrative of spy vs spy in a dangerous climate of counter-espionage, but it's not a film for action junkies. It is a measured story, long on exposition, tight on climax and staging: violence is sparing, explosions have no part to play. Smiley's appeal lies in a closed, indecipherable nature as he quietly filters suspects to leave one man standing. And we know, it's the quiet ones you have to watch out for.

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Gary Oldman
John Hurt
Colin Firth
Ciarian Hinds

Tomas Alfredson

Bridget O'Connor


MA / 125 minutes

January 19, 2012
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moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks