If you are wondering what Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, acclaimed for the teenage vampire classic Let the Right One In, is doing adapting John Le Carré's Cold War classic about the hunt for a Russian "mole" at the highest echelons of 1970s British intelligence, with a stellar cast of British actors, the answer is very simple. He is doing another ever-so-poignantly chilly period piece where violence suffuses the entire production but little to nothing truly happens on screen, where the temperature hardly ever rises above a wintery cold and silences speak louder than words. That Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy isn't as enthralling as Let the Right One In is less due to any sense of high expectations than to the difficulty in compacting a tricky novel whose only previous screen life was as a television series down to two hours.

     In fact, the key to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the same as it was for the previous film: the sense of normalcy and regular life that their nominal heroes yearn for but are routinely denied - everyone in the "Circus" of British intelligence services is awash in memories of "a better time" when things weren't so bloody confusing. And Mr. Alfredson's dull palette of gun-metal grays, ragged browns and rainy skies, crisply shot by Hoyte van Hoytema, underlines how sordid this entire underworld of espionage is, especially when contrasted with the deceptively innocent flashbacks of a "Circus" Christmas party that punctuate intermittently the central plotline. This party is an invention of the film's script that codifies the idea of the "Circus" as a once-loving family that has grown into dysfunction, showing how much the righteous mentality of these folk raised during WWII had deteriorated into callous, ruthless politicking - with power a cheap substitute for doing work that matters.

     In that sense, Mr. Alfredson, with his observant, coolly detached handling, turns out to be a director perfectly attuned to the piece, even if his cerebral chilliness ends up deterring the viewer from complete engagement with a film that proceeds at a stately but often remote pace, and whose cast is somewhat wasted. Other than Gary Oldman's impeccable George Smiley, most everyone else is reduced to supporting roles with little screen time - from mere one-scene walk-ons to insufficiently developed characters, only John Hurt, Mark Strong, Colin Firth and Toby Jones manage to make any impression. Still, that doesn't make it a worse movie - just one that manages the impossible feet of making an articulate, engaging film utterly faithful to its source material while somehow not quite reaching its full potential.

Gary Oldman; Kathy Burke, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Dencik, Colin Firth, Stephen Graham, Tom Hardy, Ciarán Hinds, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Simon McBurney, Mark Strong.
     Director, Tomas Alfredson; screenplay, Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, from the novel by John Le Carré, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; cinematography, Hoyte van Hoytema (colour, Nordisk Film processing, widescreen); music, Alberto Iglesias; production designer, Maria Djurkovic; costume designer, Jacqueline Durran; editor, Dino Jonsäter; producers, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo (Studiocanal, Karla Films, Paradis Films, Kinowelt Filmproduktion, Working Title Films), United Kingdom/France/Germany, 2011, 127 minutes. (World sales, Studiocanal.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9, Lisbon, December 5th 2011.


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