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Amidst the Cold War in the 70s, the head of Britain's MI6, Control (John Hurt), sends Jim Prideau (Mark Strong) to Budapest to talk a Hungarian General into defecting. The General knows the true identity of the mole within MI6, who has been passing secrets to Karla, the Russian spy master. Control has narrowed down the suspects to five men, and code-named them according to the old nursery rhyme: Tinker for careerist Percy Alleline (Toby Jones); Tailor, the urbane Bill Haydon (Colin Firth); Soldier, Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds); Poor Man, the weakling Toby Esterhase (David Dencik); and Beggarman, Control's right-hand man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman). Prideau's mission is a terrible failure. Some time later, Undersecretary Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney) recalls Smiley from retirement to find the mole. Control, now dead from a heart attack, may well have guessed right. Smiley, needing a current insider, takes on Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) to retrieve documents from the archives.

Review by Louise Keller:
The world of espionage is not simple. Nor is this disarmingly excellent new adaptation of John le Carré's 1974 bestselling novel. Nor should it to be. The esteemed author, now aged 80 makes a brief appearance as a guest in the Christmas party scene towards the end of the film. Ironically it's a scene that doesn't exist in the book but is the moment that exposes a revelation to Gary Oldman's central character of George Smiley, whose code name is Spy. Smiley is MI6's top spy, complete with poker face, calm manner and a soft spot and brought out of his forced retirement to pinpoint who is the double agent.

It's an extraordinary ensemble cast that Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) has gathered: the best of the best is carefully positioned here and much of the joy of watching the cat and mouse games and revelations that transpire are to do with the cast. The film also looks wonderful, portraying a claustrophobic, shabby world of dull colours and settings. Hoyte Van Hoytema's outstanding cinematography often shows us the action through windows: from the outside looking in.

Trust no one says John Hurt's Control, head of the Circus, code name for the British Secret Intelligence Service. There's a rotten apple in their midst - a mole that the Russians have recruited, somewhere at the top - and the proceedings take the form of an intriguing chess game in which the mole is sought out. Screenwriters Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O'Connor have created a sublimely intricate and clever screenplay which slides in and out of flashback so unobtrusively, we almost don't notice it. This is the way we get to know all the characters - in their various interactions with each other.

But it is not only the expose of the mole that is important on the canvass on which Le Carré dabbles. The spy culture and climate of uncertainty that forms the backdrop on which the story sits is powerful in itself. Set in 1973, the action mostly takes place in London, although there's an international flavour to the story with sequences in Istanbul, Paris and Budapest, where one of the most memorable scenes takes place - early in the film as a secret mission goes wrong.

Oldman is superb as the ever-present Smiley (portrayed by Alec Guinness in the 1979 TV series), while Colin Firth shows great presence as the elegant, confident Bill Haydon, code-named Tailor. The fact that the physicality of the actors is so different works in the film's favour with Toby Jones as good as ever as the smarmy Percy Alleline (Tinker) and Ciaran Hiands's large features are imposing as Roy Bland (Soldier). But they are not the only rotten apple contenders. For maximum enjoyment, do not expect a run-of-the-mill thriller with linear storytelling and a simple resolution. There is far more complexity to absorb.

Le Carré is a master of the genre and under Alfredson's dense direction, the revitalisation of this classic is elevated to new heights as well as a new audience.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There never was anything James Bond-ish about John Le Carré's sobering world of 1970s Cold War espionage, in which the characters are indistinguishable from everyday folk in the street - but whose working lives are lived in a parallel world, complicated by fear of betrayal and the swaying loyalties of friend and foe. Tomas Alfredson's team has captured this in a film in which mood and atmosphere count for as much as character and plot.

The deliberate pace, the underplayed naturalism of the settings, the closely observed details and the silken threads of relationships all combine to turn the spy thriller into character driven drama. Allegiances and secret, personal motivations abound and Gary Oldman delivers a minimalist George Smiley whose silences are as meaningful as his words. It's a masterful performance in which Oldman, as well known as he is, disappears - or perhaps morphs seamlessly into Smiley. It's the stillness and the depth of characterisation that is haunting - and every bit as effective as was the great Alec Guinness in the 1979 TV mini series.

The 7-part mini series had ample time to draw out the myriad elements of the novel, but le Carre and co-writers Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O'Connor have captured the essence with all the subtlety and nuance of the underlying work. There is a great deal of subtext in le Carre's novel exploring some of the social textures of Britain, which is perhaps the one element the film cannot quite manage: issues of class and social manipulation, the coterie of characters whose upper class education and backgrounds make them eminently employable - yet eminently unsuitable for the job, and so on.

But this is a splendid film on every level, soaking us in the period while retaining a contempo sensibility - without falling for the temptation to modernise the film language itself. There are no attempts to make it a spy movie for teenage boys. Indeed, there are only four gunshots in the entire film - each one tremendously powerful in its dramatic impact. It's a film consciously made for grown ups.

The supporting cast is superb; Tom Hardy continues to impress after his knock-out performance opposite Joel Edgerton as the determined boxer in Warrior and the veterans around him and the foursome playing the central suspects, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds and David Dencik, are masterful.

Alfredson shows that his achievement in crafting films of such depth was not a fluke with Let the Right One In (2008).
First published in the Sun-Herald

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(UK/France/Germany, 2011)

CAST: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Kathy Burke, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik, Stephen Graham, Konstantin Khabensky, Svetalna Khodchenkova, Simon McBurney

PRODUCER: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo

DIRECTOR: Tomas Alfredson

SCRIPT: Peter Straughan, Bridget O'Connor (novel by John le Carré)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hoyte van Hoytema

EDITOR: Dino Jonsater

MUSIC: Alberto Iglesias


RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 25, 2012

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