The most un-thrilling thriller of recent memory

At the height of the Cold War, a recently retired George Smiley (Oldman) is secretly recommissioned by top brass at the British Secret Service (aka The Circus) when they discover that they have in their midst a Russian operative, working in the upper echelons of their own command. Tasked with learning the identity of this traitor, Smiley has to remain under the cover of his retirement while enlisting help from inside. He must determine who can be trusted to assist him in the analysis of five suspects, all high-ranking intelligence officers.

Collecting the most desirable ensemble cast of recent years, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson has hand-picked some of the greatest on-screen talent working today: old-school veterans such as John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds and Gary Oldman are complemented perfectly by fashionable young guns: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy and a woefully underused Stephen Graham.

This is the second time John Le Carre’s 1973 novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has been adapted for the screen – the first being a TV series in 1978 starring Sir Alec Guinness in the role of George Smiley. With this in mind, even before seeing the film, one might suspect a potential weakness in the condensed running time. The narrative is episodic, divided into spending concentrated time with individual operatives. In attempting to communicate in two hours all the material that the TV series allowed itself several episodes to convey means that through the course of the film we are left struggling to fully engage with any of the numerous characters.

On the other hand, London never looked more Scandinavian-cool; it’s all sombre white-skies and cigarette smoke in shadowy rooms. Alfredson has a steely hand and is a great director-as-stylist. Like his phenomenally successful horror ‘Let The Right One In’, the lighting is all subdued nostalgic naturalism, carefully framed with a restrained deftness of touch. One only wishes he’d displayed equal skill in administering his film’s narrative with an enema.

Atmospheric and stylish yes, but this has to be the most un-thrilling thriller of recent memory.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Dir: Tomas Alfredson;

UK/Fra/Ger thriller, 2011, 127 mins;

Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Kathy Burke, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy
Premiered Feb 9
Playing nationwide