Extraordinarily strong notices coming out of Venice fro Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy. Among the proud UK critics, The Guardian gives it 4/5 stars (“Right here, right now, it’s the film to beat at this year’s festival.”) and The Telegraph goes all in with 5/5 stars (“a superb adaptation… the film is a triumph.”)
Empire’s Matt Mueller:
Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, hot off the impressive child-vampire thriller Let The Right One In, makes an ideal candidate to handle Tinker’s chilly, melancholic intrigue and serve up a dispassionate portrait of miserable, paranoid spies. Gary Oldman too is an actor with the finely calibrated talent to wipe memories of Alec Guinness’ iconic performance as George Smiley, the nondescript intelligence analyst whose sad, drab exterior masks a fluent, animated intellect. Pile on a helping of stellar British thesps with career heat to burn (Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Mark Strong and Toby Jones) and this makes for compelling adult entertainment.
Alfredson’s approach to Le Carre’s tale is diligent, honourable, astute, a carefully executed whodunit that captures the stark drabness of early ‘70s Cold War Britain (the hair, suits and skin pallor all marvellously dreary), contains a clutch of nail-biting sequences and features a razor-sharp turn from Oldman as the doleful spy brought in from the cold to unmask whichever one of his former colleagues is leaking secrets to the Russians. Besides Oldman, it’s Hardy who makes the biggest impression, bringing a touch of humanity to this barrel of cold public-school fish as Ricky Tarr, the anxious working-class operative with vital information. Cumberbatch, too, has great fun as Smiley’s trusted inside man.
The Guardian‘s Xan Brooks:
Nimbly navigating the labyrinthine source novel by John Le Carré, Alfredson eases us through a run-down 70s London, all the way to a municipal MI6 bunker, out by the train yards. This, it transpires, is “the Circus”, a warren of narrow corridors and smoke-filled offices, patrolled by jumpy, ulcerous men with loose flesh and thinning hair, peering into the shadows in search of a spy. There’s a mole at the top of the Circus, a “deep-penetration agent” leaking secrets to the Soviets. Control (John Hurt) has narrowed the hunt to five likely suspects. Now all that remains is for diffident George Smiley (Gary Oldman), working off the books and under the radar, to steal in and identify the culprit.
Oldman gives a deliciously delicate, shaded performance, flitting in and out of the wings like some darting grey lizard. We have the sense that Smiley has seen too much and done too much, and that a lifetime’s experience has bled him of colour. His eyes are tired, his collar too tight, his necktie a noose. Yet still he keeps coming, quietly infiltrating a first-rate supporting cast that includes Mark Strong, Kathy Burke and Colin Firth. Away in Istanbul, Tom Hardy raises the roof as Ricki Tarr, the tale’s bullish rogue element, while Benedict Cumberbatch is mesmerising as the well-groomed gentleman conspirator coming slowly apart at the seams.
The Telegraph‘s David Gritten:
We’ve never seen Oldman like this before, and he’s simply stunning: his soliloquy about his only meeting with his counterpart, the Soviet super-spy Karla, is so engrossing you forget to breathe. Alec Guinness immortalised Smiley in the 1970s TV version of this story, yet Oldman is easily his equal.
There’s a terrific extended set-piece scene involving Smiley’s young colleague Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) who must smuggle archived files from the Circus undetected. It’s funny, seductive and suspenseful all at once.
Much of the credit for all this must go to director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In). He captures scenes with silky fluidity, dispatching his cameras into nooks, crannies and improbable angles, finding a visual equivalent to the story’s hunt for complex solutions. Alfredson is Swedish, which may account for his detachment in viewing the film’s setting as another country with three layers of ‘foreignness’ – the recent past, Britain, and the machinations within the Circus.
This is a British and European success story. It comes from Working Title, our leading production company and is financed not by Hollywood but Europe’s StudioCanal. Its key behind-the-camera talents (including Alfredson and Alberto Iglesias, composer of the cool, sometimes jazzy score, with its hints of melancholy and menace) are all from this continent.
The best compliment to pay Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is to affirm that it does what every great film can do: it makes your heart pound, gets your pulses racing and sends your brain cells into overdrive.
IndieWIRE‘s Oliver Lyttelton:
Few films here at Venice had such high expectations beforehand, so it gives us great pleasure to report that “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is, on first viewing at least, incredibly rich and perfectly constructed, sitting with “The Conversation” and “The Ipcress File” in the very upper reaches of the genre. Alfredson appeared to be a major talent after “Let The Right One In,” and he exceeds his break-out here, never letting the style get in the way of the storytelling (as happened once or twice in the vampire film), while retaining an impeccable eye for period. The greys and browns that dominate the film—thanks to sterling work from DoP Hoyte van Hoytema—perfectly capture the grim days of 1970s Britain, and the attention to detail displayed is really quite extraordinary, every set and backdrop adding texture to the action; production designer Maria Durkovic gets a big gold star (we’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention Alberto Iglesias’ brilliant score, which does a great deal in terms of keeping the tension up) . Alfredson revels in the analogue quality enabled by the setting, lingering on details of paper and tape in a computer-free world.
He’s also clearly an astonishing director of actors, virtually every member of the cast getting at least one substantial moment to shine, right down to the day-players (”Downton Abbey” star Laura Carmichael gets across an ocean of longing in one short scene, for instance). We can’t remember the last time that Oldman put in such strong work as he does here. His eyes magnified by the giant eyewear, he’s a buttoned-down, repressed type, but with only the tiniest shift in the face, he can show a man shattered by betrayal, while still giving a certain cold professional: when he has to deceive an ally or hang an asset out to dry, he does so without blinking. The scene where he discusses meeting his adversary Karla, and what another character calls his ‘blind spot’ of his unfaithful wife (smartly kept from the camera by Alfredson, her face never glimpsed), is a something of a masterclass. But it’s also a tremendously generous performance. It would have been easy for Smiley to dominate, as grey and background-hugging as he could be, but Oldman is a great listener here, clearly loving and respecting his colleagues enough to let them match him punch-by-punch.
…We’re virtually past the point of having to say that Tom Hardy is brilliant in a film, but brilliant he is, and once more showing new strings to his bow; soft and vulnerable, deeply wounded by being shut out by his employers, he couldn’t be more different to his other turn of the moment, the brutal, turned inward brawler in “Warrior.” More of a breakout is Benedict Cumberbatch, until now best known for his starring role as the BBC’s “Sherlock.” He’s a total professional, willing to walk through fire for Smiley, but there’s a simmering anger in his performance, a slow build of paranoia as he’s asked to turn against his masters. It’s a beautifully layuered turn, considering his public persona as a flirt and a playboy, something that pays off beautifully in a quietly devastating scene, one that may be prove controversial to die-hard fans of the book.