Gary Oldman is one of the best actors on the planet. Feel free to pay homage at Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the devilishly clever film version of John le Carré’s iconic 1974 spy novel from Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In), in which Oldman gives a performance that is flawless in every detail. This mind-bending thriller infuses Cold War espionage with the hot immediacy of today’s corporate treachery. Oldman plays George Smiley, a spymaster forced out of MI6 (the British Secret Intelligence Service), along with his boss (a hypnotically conniving John Hurt), for infamously botching a mission in Budapest. Alfredson stages the skulduggery for maximum suspense. Soon after, Smiley is brought back in, undercover, to ferret out a mole, a double agent selling out to the Russians. Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds and David Dencik power a dream cast as the chief suspects. Stir in a rogue agent (an explosive Tom Hardy), a youthful Smiley ally (the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch) and a former MI6 researcher (a dynamite Kathy Burke), and the movie ignites.
Sex (straight and gay) figures strongly in the spy game of manipulation. Each actor elevates the other’s game. Watching Oldman parry with the electrifying Firth or put the screws to Hardy without raising his voice is a master class in film artistry. Oldman makes us brutally aware of the emotions roiling under the unruffled surface of this anti-James Bond, showing the sudden cruelty that tilts Smiley’s moral balance until – even behind his owlish glasses – he can’t see straight. As Alfredson directs the expert script by Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor, the film emerges as a tale of loneliness and desperation among men who can never disclose their secret hearts, even to themselves. It’s easily one of the year’s best films.
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