By Sam Kerans
Tomas Alfredson's new adaptation of John Le Carré's classic novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, is a tale of Cold War espionage as far removed from the high-octane antics of James Bond and Jack Ryan as it is possible to get.
Alfredson's last film was the wonderfully chilling vampire thriller Let the Right One In, and Tinker Tailor shares that film's emphasis upon character and dialogue, with violence used sparingly to great effect, making it more The Good, the Bad and the Ugly than The Spy Who Loved Me.
In Tinker Tailor, we see 70's London through the bespectacled eyes of George Smiley, played by Gary Oldman, as he is dragged from retirement to uncover a Soviet mole within the upper echelons of the British Secret Service (or the Circus, as it is known in the film). Oldman plays Smiley beautifully, reflecting the character's sullen pathos, only occasionally betrayed by a flash of fire behind the eyes as he relentlessly pursues and hooks his target.
However, given the time constraints on the film, we never really get to know any of the other characters who make up the shadowy cabal at the top of the Circus. Terrific actors such as Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds and Toby Jones are incredibly underused, and we get no sense of the individual temperaments of the agents, or the roles that each of them play in keeping Britain safe from the Red menace.
As such, as the film builds to its conclusion, the eventual denouement and the unmasking of the double agent is rendered surprisingly hollow and meaningless. As a work of directorial vision and cinematography, the film is first-class, and makes a refreshing change from the 'throw explosions and gunfire everywhere and see what sticks' approach of so many films recently. However, the two-hour running time leaves no time for the story and characters to develop as richly as they deserve, and as they did in the magnificent BBC adaptation starring Alec Guiness.
Films based upon novels so rarely manage to eclipse their source material (I can think of only a handful, such as Curtis Hanson's hugely underrated Wonder Boys or The Godfather), and Tinker Tailor simply cannot live up to Le Carré's original, ground-breaking work.