It’s a brave choice to tackle a book that has not only become an institution amongst fans of the genre, but was also made into a TV series that became something of a national institution, but Thomas Alfredson (last seen turning the vampire genre on its head with “Let The Right One In” seems to have taken the bull by the horns with this brave, complicated, but most importantly adult interpretation – no one could accuse him of dumbing down the subject matter for the audience (it will be interesting to see how this plays in the States, where it’s glacial pace and lack of forgiveness for those that don’t keep up is on a par with The Wire in terms of audience expectations). Indeed, the audience as for the most part older than what we’ve become used to in cinemas over the last few years.
Key to the success of the adaptation is the faith in the book – where the choice has to be made what to do, the writer and director seem to have fallen back on the question “ What happened in the book”? It’s refreshing to see such total commitment to the source material these days – although Alfredson did the same with his last film. Likewise, the cast is uniformly superb, with not a single case of miscasting throughout the vast cast. Gary Oldman is required to do much of the heavy lifting in his dual role of George Smiley / Alec Guiness. Yes, he does channel that prior performance in his role, but to be honest it would be difficult for any British actor not to. It’s difficult to appreciate how good Oldman can still be as all he seems to be in recent memory is Silas Black, but here it’s all about not showing emotion instead of letting it rule. Only at one stage in the film does he let rip, and even then it’s with such a degree of measured response that it feels almost stately. Elsewhere the acting honours should go to Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Tom Hardy – the latter of whom is clearly marking himself out as someone to watch. It would be remiss not to mention Cathy Burke, who after so long not on our screens (the last film I can remember her being in was Oldman’s directorial debut “Nil By Mouth”) turns up and simply steals the film from everyone. No one puts a foot wrong.
Once again it seems worth mentioning the visual appearance of the film as well. So many films are shot on digital these days, but here the director seems to have returned to traditional film in order to maintain the appearance of the time. Indeed, flashbacks (of which there are many) seem to be on an even older stock as a means of distinguishing them from the bulk of the film. Its an interesting stylistic choice, but one that seems to be becoming more common these days with directors who still insist on using film.
Elsewhere it’s technically superb – it’s edited within an inch of its life but never feels as if its rushing from one scene to another. Things unfold in their own time and at the pace they require. It’s also worth mentioning the sound design, much of the film relies on the visual clues as to what is happening and so large sections of the soundtrack consist of the background hum of the office, once again it works perfectly in bringing the viewer into the proceedings.
With any luck this could spearhead a return to more adult orientated cinema, but unfortunately everytime I make that wish we seem to get another Transformers Three. Whether it remains as well loved in twenty years as the seventies show remains to be seen, but for now it should be applauded as another example of what the British film industry is good at.