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Editor's Cut

This week's best upcoming screenings

Written by . Published on September 16th 2011.

Editor's Cut

SET against a '70s backdrop and the uneasy and ever-looming Cold War, Tomas Alfredson’s (Let The Right One In) interpretation for the screen of celebrated spy novelist John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a slow, slow burning affair. By no means your typical international espionage story, the fast-paced action and slack jaw excitement is exchanged for cryptic flashbacks, clenched teeth and knotted stomachs. Set firmly, and for that fact terrifyingly, in reality, be prepared to get comfortable on the edge of your seat for the next two hours and grow accustomed to tension's dense, tightly-wound, anything-could-happen hold. A delicate and well balanced argument of a film, meticulously executed, with all details addressed with a fine tooth comb, all questions unravelled and ironed out of all inconsistencies, this is probably not the film you should choose for your first date.

As a past and extinguished mission is reignited when new information comes to light, a chain reaction of events sees the undermining of the innards of MI6, The Circus. The forced into retirement, George Smiley, (Gary Oldman) is put in charge of the improbable task of investigating his previous co-workers and friends to discover who amongst them is the Russian mole leaking information to the other side and in discovering so restoring order and semblance, as well as keeping his legacy well in tact. With lots of travelling backwards and forwards along the timeline, weighing up the evidence, plotting and deducing, everyone is a suspect and few things add up when coming under further scrutiny, but so cool (or cold) are the relationships and fronts, it is impossible to determine who did it.

We see flashbacks revisiting a Christmas party exploring the dynamics of the 'team's' estranged, strained relationship; a smile acknowledging each other's presence; a raised glass toast; a shared glance held too long; a coldness to all their actions; slow, calculated secrecy; everything appearing calm on the surface, but double-crossing and darkness lurking beneath. In a figurative and literal chess game, we see men on the edge, guarded, playing their hands close to their chests, never giving anything up, deceiving one another in an ever-growing web spiralling out of control, looking out for number one, which is further more intensified as rarely are we afforded the opportunity or insight into there lives, with only snap shots of tiny details revealed, some of the characters seem to only exist within the four walls of the building – everything else is hinted at or left for the viewer to decide themselves.

Stylistically executed with well-considered actions further reinforcing the sense of fear and suspicion in the air, a beautiful long shot introduces the cast of characters as it makes it way around The Circus. A slow, seemingly never-ending zooming back of the camera calls to mind a spy's binoculars, the intensified mystery of some character's faces. The violence here is composed and measured and never celebrated, every moment of gratuitous bloodshed is countered, the instant bottom of the stomach unglamour of gore is bookened with Oldman cautiously swimming through the murky water of his local lido or some such other. On the other hand, there are moments of much needed hilarity and unexpected comic relief, breaking the tension enough to catch your breath, refreshing your palate and attention, simple everyday (and the not so everyday) moments that make life a very surreal proposition indeed. A fly stuck in the car, a song on the radio, an owl flying the chimney.

I don’t think I can impress enough how legitimate the film feels, the attention to detail second to none, the set design, costumes, props, never once does the tone feel cliché or pastiche. With a slightly affected look managing to appear as though it was filmed using the technology of the time, everything feels and appears as it should 'normal'. One does not get the feeling they’re being pandered to, there are no over-the-top or deliberate brash moves to reaffirm that you’re watching a film set in the '70s, so universal and believable is the story this could be any time, it just happens to be that it is set when it is.

I could go on and on gushing about each individual cast member's performance, yes Oldman is fantastic, yes Colin Firth is fantastic, yes Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic, yes Mark Strong is fantastic, ad infinitum. Each performance so subtle and understated, so in keeping with the piece, meticulous, refined, paced and considered. There is no showboating here nor would there be room for it, so smooth are the interactions, so played down the personalities that anything more would stick out like a sore thumb. These elements all making for one of the most exciting (even if subdued) films of 2011 and a welcome addition to the spy genre.

In cinemas 16 Septmeber

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