Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. France/United Kingdom/Germany, 2011. StudioCanal, Karla Films, Paradis Films, Kinowelt Filmproduktion, Working Title Films, Canal+, CinéCinéma. Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan, based on the novel by John Le Carre. Cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo. Music by Alberto Iglesias. Production Design by Maria Djurkovic. Costume Design by Jacqueline Durran. Film Editing by Dino Jonsater. Academy Awards 2011. European Film Awards 2012. Venice Film Festival 2011.
There’s a mole in the Circus and Smiley’s got to find out where it is. Sounds like the description of a Chaplin short, but actually the situation could not possible be more serious; at least that’s how Tomas Alfredson feels about this somewhat absorbing but deadly dry adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel of the same name. Gary Oldman is retired from the field but is pulled back in when he is informed that there is a double agent spilling secrets to the other side. He goes from colleague to colleague, interviewing them about past events while flashing back to earlier times when he himself was in the service leading up to the controversy that forced his retirement. The entire cast, including Kathy Burke, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon McBurney and John Hurt, is a veritable Who’s Who of British actors giving scintillating performances in supporting roles, but it seems the real star here is the production design: an entire era of brown tweed and reel-to-reel tape recording is brought back to life as Alfredson gives us the seventies in startling detail. Goodness knows it’s the most exciting thing about the film considering that Le Carre’s plot, determined as always to make spy stories as anti-Bond as they can get, refuses to allow things to ever reach any kind of exciting boil, while the frustrating narrative veers back and forth in time periods and not always with the greatest of comprehensible ease. To be fair, however, it does its low-intensity-burn style very well; it is an intelligent and handsome political thriller with no significant politics, and it is lorded over beautifully by Oldman’s exquisitely subtle performance.