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It’s not often a reviewer says this but I recommend that you don’t trust this review. After a long and tiring day I stepped into the cinema with eyelids already drooping and watched this complex, slow-burning and wordy film in a state of mild exhaustion which is not the optimum condition to be in for it. Needless to say I couldn’t follow the story properly and will have to see it again to form a more reliable opinion but in spite of this enjoyed what I did take in a great deal. I’ve never believed that one’s first experience with a film (or a game) is enough to gauge how much you like it, I’ve already changed my mind about Disney’s Tangled which I reviewed earlier this year and now, after several DVD viewings believe it deserves another star, something I suspect may also apply to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Based on John Le Carré’s novel which was famously adapted into a popular BBC series the cold war story makes for a fairly atypical spy film that swaps Bondisms of Martinis, car chases and gadgets for something far more authentic, human and absorbing. The 1970s setting leads the aesthetic design which is overwhelmed by that era’s strange taste for bland colour schemes. Offices are brown, teal or grey and drowning in a fug of cigarette smoke populated by suited men and the occasional attractive blond. This is the world of British Intelligence that acknowledges the fallibility of its spies and their stunted, strained relationships.

The cast is a who’s who of the cream of (almost exclusively male) British talent including John Hurt, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones and, of course, Gary Oldman who takes the lead as George Smiley, a master spy brought out of retirement to investigate the presence of a mole in his former office. It’s a story of suspicion and intrigue where colleagues and friends lose their trust in each other. As you’d expect the acting is superb throughout, every player delivering some tremendous turns with the likes of Hardy and Cumberbatch standing out in their movingly human performances but it’s Oldman’s show and he here provides one of his quietest performances but he nails the character with a level of precision and professionalism few actors can manage. The subtlest movements of facial muscles do more here than some actors can achieve with far fewer restrictions.

The script also zings with terrific flavour that gives the actors plenty to get their chops round and you can be sure there’s a lot more than espionage going on here. Most characters have two or three arcs to get through and scenes that would seem innocuous in other movies really stand out. The whole thing is enshrouded by a gloom that evokes an old-fashioned world of deceit and suspicion. The only difficulty with it is that you rather need to be switched on for it. A handful of people left the packed showing I attended. Just to reiterate my reaction to this film is not entirely reliable. I thoroughly enjoyed it but know I would have got more out of it were my mind a bit sharper.

Verdict

The kind of film you really need to be awake for but enthralling in its depth and performances. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy brings the cold war espionage story of yesteryear back with brilliant relevance but it’s the characters that will stick in the mind. Consider these four stars a codename for five stars.

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