Alfredon’s ‘Tinker, Tailor’ smolders on screen

Posted by · 5:23 pm · September 19th, 2011

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 Jons├Ąter’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.

[Photo: Focus Features]

→ 16 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily · Reviews

16 responses so far

  • 1 9-19-2011 at 5:33 pm

    Keith said...

    I’m having a hard time getting excited for this movie–it’s just not my thing really. But if it’s quality, and it appears to be, I’ll see it, especially for Oldman.

  • 2 9-19-2011 at 5:42 pm

    Cal said...

    I really like “Tinker, Tailor..” and definitely agree that its dense, moody atmosphere represents a lot of the appeal here.

    Oldman is great, and regarding the supporting performances I found Hardy’s to be the best — despite not loving him generally. Cumberbatch is good also. A little too paranoid (thinking of the scene where he goes to retrieve the file) but he gathers more weight in the second half.

  • 3 9-19-2011 at 5:50 pm

    James said...

    Another cool looking genre flick, but if audiences found Drive frustrating and slow, it seems like this one will be even more difficult.

    I think the only genre flick this fall/winter from a master that will come out unharmed by moviegoers is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo based on the popularity of the book.

    Drive is a movie in love with movies and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy will be a slow burn espionage thriller that will bore many. Can’t wait.

  • 4 9-19-2011 at 8:30 pm

    may said...

    Can’t wait for it. But the online reaction seems to be at the extremes; either you are impressed by how well executed it is or you fell asleep because you didn’t understand what was going on.

    Love Benedict Cumberbatch and looking forward to his performance; hope this and War Horse gets him bigger roles like his peers. I do feel that he is the most talented of his generation but unfortunately his looks are too unconventional to get him the big blockbuster leads. Britain has a great crop of 30+ actors right now.

  • 5 9-19-2011 at 11:11 pm

    Tinkerfan said...

    Saw TTSS a few days ago and loved it. You really did feel you were back in the 70’s. Very hard to pull off. Out of the cast Cumberbatch stood out for me. Gary Oldman while I love him dearly was a little to one note for me. Cumberbatch’s performance actually had more depth. In my view he is the best actor in his 30’s working today and I hope he gets the lead in Marvel’s Dr Strange so he gets a bigger world wide fanbase. Having said that his fanbase on tumblr seems huge.

  • 6 9-19-2011 at 11:13 pm

    Jerimedeth said...

    How does Tinker Tailor compare to Zodiac, for those of us who found Fincher’s film uniquely engrossing (and much better than The Social Network)?

  • 7 9-20-2011 at 12:20 am

    Oleanna said...

    Sorry I’ve not seen Zodiac but its in a different league to the vastly over rated Social Network.

    Luckily for me I was in a packed cinema for TTSS and everyone else also appeared to be engrossed because you could have heard a pin drop in there.

    The film was easy to follow and I don’t understand some comments about the flashbacks causing confusion because they were well placed.

    Stand outs – Oldman, Cumberbatch, Firth and Strong. Hardy was less impressive but I’m sure the fanboys will gush like crazy.

    I hope they do a follow up as hinted. Going straight to Smiley’s People and missing out the Honourable Schoolboy. I’d like to see Oldman and Cumberbatch reunited. They worked well together on screen.
    I’m hoping the rumours about Marvel’s interest in Cumberbatch are true. He’d be an excellent Ant Man or even better Dr Strange.

  • 8 9-20-2011 at 12:23 am

    Linus said...

    Mark Strong was really excellent in this. Probably his best work as an actor and my favourite performance in the film.

  • 9 9-20-2011 at 4:46 am

    JJ1 said...

    Geez, there really isn’t a cohesive standout Supporting actor, is there?

    Cumberbatch, Hardy, Strong. I’ve heard equal raves for all 3 over & over, but not 1 exclusively. Even Firth has had strong word, and we know how he is loved recently.

  • 10 9-20-2011 at 4:52 am

    Graysmith said...

    Just a correction, it’s Alfredsson with two s.

    Anyway, dying to see this.. It’s probably at the top of my list for the rest of the year, although that’s pretty much as long as I’ll have to wait to see it too.

  • 11 9-20-2011 at 1:25 pm

    AnnaZed said...


    Ok, I’m sneaking back over here to ask a question about your HitFix iteration of this post. Why does it have a critics rating posted there and the other films that you have posted about there don’t have one? Also, why is that rating a B+? I’ve seen much higher marks for this film across the many sites that I follow. What’s up with that?

  • 12 9-21-2011 at 6:52 am

    Ro Danks said...

    Excellent film (I’m writing from London). I haven’t been able to collate all my thoughts after seeing this film, but having read the book prior to viewing, I’d say it helps a lot in gaining an even greater appreciation of the fine job cast and crew did on this production. Truly excellent all round. Casting was perfect and the standout performances if that is possible were Oldman, Strong, Hardy and Cumberbatch (in that order). I couldn’t get enough of the production design. The detail is incredible. Also, the cinema audience who I shared the experience with was a vastly different demographic to what I am used to – nearly all 40-50+ year old, couples and singles, who hardly made a peep during the film. A great change from the norm!

  • 13 9-29-2011 at 8:42 am

    Susan said...

    I adored the film and hope we see Oldman and Cumberbatch reunited in the follow up. The standouts for me were Strong and Cumberbatch. Those performances stayed with me long after the film. The film design was stunning and I hope it wins the BAFTA?Oscar.

  • 14 11-21-2011 at 9:24 pm

    Chris138 said...

    Great film, I loved every frame. And, like you Kris, I didn’t read the book or see the mini-series before watching it and was completely riveted for all 127 minutes of its running time.

  • 15 11-21-2011 at 10:01 pm

    Chris138 said...

    Saw the film tonight and loved it. It was the closing film for the AFI’s European Union Festival. Gary Oldman and the director Tomas Alfredson were there for the Q&A that followed afterward, which was fascinating. One thing that was brought up was a sequel, and Alfredson said that they are concentrated on releasing the film first but he confirmed that they had been discussing a sequel in the future.

    Fun fact: Gary Oldman’s favorite performance of his career is Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK, along with Drexl in True Romance.

  • 16 11-22-2011 at 12:37 pm

    Chris138 said...

    Apologies for posting two comments about the same thing here. The first one wasn’t showing up initially.