Many of you will probably have heard about this film, as the high profile it has obtained is quite prolific. The cast list alone was enough to get me excited; Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, John Hurt and Tom Hardy to name but a few. Film critics everywhere have been praising the powerhouse performances and there has already been talk of Academy Awards nominations. I therefore felt I had to see it.
The story concerns George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a former spy who is called back to the service. It is the middle of the Cold War, and they suspect a Russian mole has penetrated the upper ranks. It is up to Smiley who’s working from the outside to work out which of the top brass are selling secrets to the Soviets.
I included the trailer as for anyone who wishes to see it, I would say it is essential viewing. It gives away nothing but will actually prevent you being confused about the dialogue they use, as this film is short on explanations. Without this information I think I would have been lost, and even with it, several key moments came and went without me understanding why.
The method deployed here is one of total immersion, and the director does an impeccable job. Every shot conveys a sense of dreary malaise that really evokes the feeling of cold war Britain. It’s rightfully impressed the critics.
The problem though is that this does not make it a fun film to watch. I went in with high expectations, possibly too high, and really wanted to like this film, but sadly did not.
I really tried to engage with the characters, but must admit I struggled. The difficulty is that they all play spies and as such are all putting up walls. Each character is hiding their tell-tale signs of emotion and although the actors are intelligent enough to let some things slip, you still never really know any of them.
Take Smiley, the lead character; he almost constantly has the same facial expression. It’s only in the pauses and the faults that we know what he’s thinking. His control of his outward appearance is an admirable character trait, something I truly respected, but it does not endear you to the character.
That is the main problem with this film; it’s very impressive and skilful, but there is little emotion here. The cold war setting has been made real and you can’t help feeling as despondent and unattached as those involved. It is a thriller with no bang.
Of course, that is probably the point. It’s an intelligent piece, a study of men that went through terrible trials for their country. Each one is broken and alone; they are spent but soldiering on because life gives them no other options. I’m left wondering if the audience is even meant to enjoy the film at all.
It is certainly a film to make you think and normally I would applaud this. I approve of intelligent films, but this isn’t what I normally expect from the sub-genre. This is like the Times crossword; it requires knowledge to solve and intellect to read, but once it’s finished you’ll forget about it completely.
As you may have realised, I prefer films that leave you thinking about some of life’s big questions. The Tree of Life for example, is completely different. That has almost no story, instead taking the viewer on a reactionary journey through a series of ideas, allowing you to mull them over. I’ve not seen it, but I imagine it would leave me thinking about questions I’d never even thought of asking.
In conclusion, while I cannot personally recommend this film, I cannot condemn it. It is meticulously executed and a beautiful work of art. I hope that if you do see it, that you will at least manage your expectations better than I did.