Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

You know when a movie has that segment that’s intercut between different times and places?

Cool, isn’t it? As a technique to either break up tension or increase it, to give a sense of omniscience or to withhold information. Or to lead into the next scene in an interesting way.

TTSS is intercut the whole way through.

It took me aback at first. Obviously you’re no way near as grounded as a result as you would be in a Spielberg-era (1975-present) Hollywood film. And yet, that was precisely the point. For all my fears that this would be another tiresome overly British wankshow, Tomas Alfredson brought in a great deal of European sensibility.

See, despite the experienced cast and all the nostalgia, the stunning cinematography made it clear: this is a revisionist text. We’re looking at the period with hindsight. Unlike the British films from the 60s the film’s mise-en-scene seemed to be taken from, the camera was far from static, and the cinematography somewhat ingenious (unlike the nonsensical King’s Speech). One of the first shots is in Control’s base. It’s very cluttered and you look around at everything. Then John Hurt and Mark Strong enter from stage left, but they’re framed in the top corner. In other words there is as little direction as possible as to where our eyes should be looking, which is the primary job of a director usually. There’s a great tension as a result. You’re not going to be spoon-fed everything. You have to join the dots.

At other times, the approach is the opposite but the effect the same. We’re outside a rather nice house. To the right there’s some teens reciting lines for a play. The camera ever so slowly moves to the right and forward, drawing our attention to the shadowed doorway in the middle. Smiley (Oldman) enters from stage right. The camera is still making us look at that entrance. There’s going to be something (or someone?) significant about to happen. Nothing. A woman walks out! Can’t see who she is. Followed by someone else! They walk out of shot. They’re anonymous. The shot ends. Tension for the sake of tension. The film plays a lot like this and yet still takes your surprise. There’s a fantastic double red herring at one point, and I won’t even tell you what I mean, for risk of spoiling it. You’ll realise when the end of the film comes.

The cast is of course absolutely full of talent, so much so that even Stephen Graham has to make do with a bit part. It’s somewhat impressive how the starriness doesn’t overwhelm the film. In a flick like Ocean’s Eleven, it’s integrated. Here, we need to believe in the characters. And maybe it’s helped by the fragmented structure or the large quantity of them mixed up with character actors, but we do. There isn’t a single weak link. It’s frustrating that I can’t even tell you which actor impressed the most – a fantastic performance – because even that is a spoiler.

Anywho. Go see this film on a day after a good night’s sleep, when your brain is fresh, and use it.