Lingering clouds of cigarette smoke mask a group of men sitting in silence, sharing suspicious glances and nervous twitches better associated with a high stakes poker table. As well as soaking up the stale odorous stench from the cigarettes, the sound proofed walls of this meeting room prevent anyone outside the room overhearing the conversations inside. This is the perfect location for veteran espionage agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) to uncover the identity of a traitorous Soviet mole operating inside the MI6.
For Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) Swedish director Tomas Alfredson is reunited with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who he had previously worked with on his most notable film Let The Right One In (2008), and much like the original John Le Carré novel, the pair brilliantly capture the gloomy and distrustful atmosphere of Cold War Britain. In their previous film the duo had a tendency to include geometric shapes within the frame; a photographic technique that, when used effectively, directs the viewer’s eye towards the main subject of the shot. This device is used once again in this film and to a much greater effect. Shots are created with the camera positioned in the shadows, looking through windows and peering around corners from behind walls, similar to a spy listening in to each character’s conversations.
With a brilliant novel as its source and a cast list that boasts some of the finest names in the industry (even the support cast includes some of the most notable upcoming British actors) it comes as no surprise that the performances are fantastic. This film shows that even actors with as much experience and prestige as this cast still benefit from a well written script. While each piece of dialogue is brilliantly written and likewise delivered it’s the film’s use of silence that stands out. The film’s title sequence as a perfect example, George Smiley is on screen, but a lot of time goes by without him saying as much as a word. While this style may deter some, particularly those who struggle with a slow burning narrative, the use of silence cleverly provides an insight in to his psyche as someone who doesn’t trust anyone in this covert period of history.
Even though it may be derived from a well known story Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’s narrative remains engaging throughout. This is largely due to its characters, a rarity for cinema to include as many as this films does, but keep each one as interesting as any other. Enduring the film’s first two acts may be a tough task, but those who do are rewarded with a breathtaking finale.