★ ★ ★
With the script based on a famous John le Carre novel, the director of Let the Right One In and a cast of some of the most phenomenal British actors working today, I was really looking forward to this film. Unfortunately, though the overall feel of the film and the performances are spot on, the movie suffers from an intensely complicated and ultimately boring script.
Even after seeing this film, I’m not sure I could give a proper full synopsis. There are flashbacks that don’t do anything to denote they are flashbacks, characters that are mentioned early on that you don’t find out who they are until way later, other characters that only appear briefly and for no real reason and long soliloquies that help show a strong performance but have no real bearing on the story. So, for this paragraph, which I usually reserve for a synopsis of the film, I will give a very brief overview of the part of the story that I can soundly report. George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is a retired agent for the MI5. The head of the division during his time, Control (John Hurt), before his departure (or death, not quite sure, maybe both) let it be known that there was a mole in the division. In hopes of preserving the legacy of his era, Smiley is reinstated to investigate this lead with the help of agent Peter Guilliam (Benedict Cumberbatch) and others. In his investigation, he unravels secrets and further information to finding the culprit within the division. Other noted actors in the film include Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong and Toby Jones.
First off, Oldman does give a tremendous performance as Smiley, but when hasn’t Oldman given a tremendous performance? A chameleon-like actor who has played roles ranging from Sid Vicious to Lee Harvey Oswald to Sirius Black, Oldman is truly one of the best working actors in the industry today, and for me, it is always a pleasure to see him on screen. Criminally, this was only the first Oscar nomination he has received in all his years as a film actor. Though he didn’t win, it was long overdue for him to receive a nomination. The supporting cast mentioned above also do great jobs in their roles, and I really think Tomas Alfredson did a good job with the shot selection and overall direction. The mood, tone and look of the film in 1960s England was spot on. Honestly, you ask yourself, how can a movie get this much right and still not be better than just a decent film? Well, the script and story is the most important part of any film. In the words of the late great Akira Kurosawa, “With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film. For truly cinematic expression, the camera and the microphone must be able to cross both fire and water. The script must be something that has the power to do this”.