Monday, January 23, 2012


This terrific new adaptation of John le Carré’s classic novel immerses the viewer in a palpable Cold War paranoia of the early 1970s yet attains a vibrant immediacy that precludes its delegation to the nostalgia archive.  After a botched operation that takes down agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) British Intelligence head Control (John Hurt) is asked to leave the Circus (as the agency is known) along with protégé George Smiley (Gary Oldman).  But government minister Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney) coaxes the forcibly retired protégé into investigating the possibility that there’s a mole (double-agent) at the top of the Circus.  The list of suspects consists of the organization’s current leadership – current head Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik).  Smiley enlists the help of junior agent Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose rogue agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) claims to have a contact that can identify the Soviet mole.  Screenwriters Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan distil le Carré’s labyrinthine plot without the need to spoon-feed.  More importantly, they find the film’s dramatic key, as any reputable spy would, by locating and exploiting the characters’ blind spots to brilliant effect.  Hoyte Van Hoytema’s subtle cinematography follows this lead with a classical approach, using slow pans for the important reveals.  Maria Djurkovic’s sharply conceived production design captures the look of the period but never feels like a museum piece.  Composer Alberto Iglesias and music supervisor Nick Angel bookend the film with surprising choices that feel just right.  The ensemble of first-rate character actors is impeccable, from the muted Oldman to the live wire Hardy to the charming Firth to the endearing Cumberbatch.  Tomas Alfredson’s directorial alchemy brings all these elements together cohesively and matches the design with a pace and tone that harkens back to a bygone era.  This emotionally and intellectually satisfying film draws favorable comparison to Arthur Penn and Francis Ford Coppola in their heyday and heralds an exciting new directing talent.


  1. Did we see the same movie? Your review is so inspiring it almost makes me want to watch it again. Almost.

    1. Well, clearly we're back to our normal dynamic. You missing a film's brilliance, while I gently point out what you've missed. :-)