Tuesday, 27 September 2011


8839251 CONTAINS 2046816 3518319 SPOILERS 7730165

Now that the summer's over, and the schools have gone back, perhaps cinemas can tear themselves away with occasionally amusing but hollow distractions and put on some movies that demand your attention throughout. Like last year's Inception, if you duck out of this wonderfully bleak and downbeat espionage drama - emphatically not a thriller - for a wee and/or more nachos, you will lose the entire thread of the story. Even if you don't, you have to pay attention as there's a lot that's unspoken and you have to fill in some of the blanks yourself: I didn't move throughout the entire running time and I missed some key plot material in the final stretch of the movie. Go before it starts.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a whodunnit where it doesn't really matter who the villain is - the Russian mole at the heart of the British Intelligence outfit of the early 1970s could be any one of its top brass quartet of Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Colin Firth and David Dencik. After retirement and the death of Control (John Hurt), George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is reluctantly dragged back into "The Circus" when asked to uncover the traitor, entirely unofficially, and with only MI6 agent Benedict Cumberbatch and retired police offiver Roger Lloyd-Pack to assist. Much of the mystery centres around Czechoslovakia - not just the disastrous attempt to bring in a high-ranking Soviet official but a subsequent incident where a relatively junior British agent goes off on his own to bring someone else in - but what really happened? Who's the new source of Russian intelligence so eagerly seized upon by The Circus as a bargaining chip to get in with the Americans? Double bluff? Triple bluff?

Its greatest achievement, aside from showcasing some fantastic acting talent (there's also Mark Strong, Kathy Burke, Tom Hardy and Simon McBurney), is probably capturing the mood and look of that time and that Cold War world and mentality. The glasses, the suits, the smoking, the cars, the decor, the endless game of chess between Britain and Russia. It's a drab, glum world: it even feels drab and glum compared to something like The Ipcress File, let alone the comic strip antics of Bond and Bourne. There are no speedboat chases, no space lasers, nothing blows up, and no-one's having any fun. But despite the lack of laughs and gosh-wow adrenaline rush moments, I really enjoyed it: I enjoyed being immersed in a world of deceit and obfuscation, even if it did get the better of me in places. Beautifully shot, thoroughly absorbing, and a movie of this calibre every month or so would not go amiss.


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