'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' director creates suspenseful, detailed masterpiece

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Review

With his 2008 vampire classic “Let the Right One In,” Tomas Alfredson proved himself an undeniable master of the slow burn, a trend he continues with the masterful “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” The spy thriller is expertly cast and Gary Oldman leads a pack of wonderful performances with his quiet, intense portrayal of George Smiley, a disgraced MI6 agent sent back into his old group to unearth a mole.

Up-and-coming actors Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch join vets Colin Firth, Toby Jones and John Hurt in the film’s extensive cast. Standouts include the heartbreaking Cumberbatch as Smiley’s main confidant, forced to sacrifice and put himself in harm’s way for his superior and the intense bluster of Toby Jones and Colin Firth.

Alfredson demonstrates a great eye for detail throughout the film, and his polished, icy visual style manages to instill menace into small things like a ringing phone or an eye exam. The film’s sound design and score also serve to nudge audiences to the edge of their seats, even as they try to decipher the film’s complex labyrinth of a plot.

If “Tinker Tailor” has one weakness, it’s the density of the plot (which is based on a novel that had previously been adapted as a miniseries), the nooks and crannies of which could be easily lost on a first-time viewer and practically require repeat screenings. Even so, the film rewards the audience’s full attention with a satisfying, cathartic ending.

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is more than worth seeing just to watch Alfredson at work, proving himself once again an absolute master of ice-cold tension and visuals. Even while it’s easy to get lost in the film’s narrative, the strong performances and direction still make the spy drama worthy of acclaim.

Printed on Monday, December 5th, 2011 as: Spy thriller features standout casting, masters the art of tension and details