Especially when it shows as much audacious skill as this British thriller does.
In the Cold War paranoia of 1973, there's a Russian mole in British intelligence. And the top boss Control (Hurt) has narrowed it down to four top colleagues (Firth, Jones, Hinds and Dencik). He asks faithful George Smiley (Oldman) to root out the spy, so he and Peter (Cumberbatch) begin a complex investigation that involves a discredited agent (Hardy) and a murdered operative (Strong). But the truth only seems to get more elusive the further they descend into the rabbit hole.
John LeCarre's story is a tightly woven knot that takes patience to unravel.
And Alfredson shoots each scene with a vivid sense of subtext, catching tiny details that might tell us something important, or maybe not. Meanwhile, O'Connor and Straughan's minimalist script teases us with secrets and innuendo, hinting at liaisons and treachery while quietly putting the pieces into the puzzle.
And it all hinges on Oldman's staggering stillness as Smiley. He only has a few scenes that involve major dialog, so we learn everything about him from tiny bits of business, flickers of his eyes and, most tellingly, his outrageous silence in the face of even the most shocking confrontation. And the cast around him is stellar, with special notice to Hardy, Firth, Cumberbatch and Strong, who like Oldman manage to show us glimpses of the man far beneath the surface.
No, there aren't many women in this film. Besides Burke's lively, sharp-tongued colleague, only Svetlana Khabenskiy's tormented Russian moll registers. It's a story about a boys' club in which one of the trusted inner circle is betraying everyone else. And Alfredson masterfully uses Hoyte Van Hoytema's smokey-foggy photography and Alberto Iglesias' swirling score to both evoke the period and keep us on our toes. Yes, it's slow, deliberate and brainy, but it's also one of the most exhilarating films of the year.
Run time: 127 mins
In Theaters: Friday 6th January 2012
Box Office USA: $24.1M
Distributed by: Focus Features
Production compaines: StudioCanal, Karla Films, Kinowelt Filmproduktion, Working Title Films, Canal+, CinéCinéma
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Fresh: 171 Rotten: 35
IMDB: 7.1 / 10
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Screenwriter: Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan
Starring: Colin Firth as Bill Haydon, Mark Strong as Jim Prideaux, Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr, Gary Oldman as George Smiley, Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam, Toby Jones as Percy Alleline, David Dencik as Toby Esterhase, Ciarán Hinds as Roy Bland, John Hurt as Control, Zoltán Mucsi as Magyar, Péter Kálloy Molnár as Hungarian Waiter, Ilona Kassai as Woman in Window, Imre Csuja as KGB Agent, Kathy Burke as Connie Sachs, Stephen Graham as Jerry Westerby, Arthur Nightingale as Bryant, Simon McBurney as Oliver Lacon, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes as Belinda, Laura Carmichael as Sal, Svetlana Khodchenkova as Irina, Konstantin Khabenskiy as Polyakov
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