Set in a begrimed 1973 rife with bad sideburns and unflattering eyeglasses, Let The Right One In director Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John LeCarre’s legendary novel wallows in the source material’s reputation as the anti-Bond thriller. Amusingly opening the same weekend that Tom Cruise’s secret agent leaps from tall buidlings with a single bound, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s Gary Oldman sits in a straight-backed chair and occasionally sighs.
As George Smiley, a disgraced MI6 operative coaxed back from forced retirement in order to ferret out a mole within the agency, Oldman disappears behind giant spectacles and a poker-faced mask of ice-cold silence. (I just read somewhere that he doesn’t speak a word for the first 18 minutes. That sounds about right.) It’s a nifty, counter-intuitive casting choice, straight-jacketing a hambone like Oldman within all this minimalism. There’s always plenty of stuff roiling behind those steely eyes, even if it just might be the actor’s desire to cut loose and eat the scenery.
Something really bad happened in Budapest. What follows is a lot of tight-lipped characters (to whom we are not properly introduced) standing around exchanging manila envelopes and veiled insinuations in ugly, smoke-filled rooms. Hey look, there’s Colin Firth!
Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan’s screenplay fumbles a bit with a fractured timeline, as if taking perverse enjoyment in obscuring as much crucial information from the audience as possible. I think I eventually put it all together in the end—but the picture makes this task neither easy, nor particularly rewarding. My own informal polling indicates that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy seems to play much better with those familiar with the original novel, or the 7-hour BBC miniseries from 1979.
For newbies, it’s an expertly mounted, enervating slog. The characters are all so remote and repressed, speaking jargon, using code-names and lying most of the time, there’s just no point of entry for the audience. I admired the rotted, dingy look of the film and the glum tenor of the performances from afar, but never felt like I was invited to take part. Only the final scene offers even a flicker of accessible emotion, and that might have more to do with the Julio Iglesias song on the soundtrack.
I kept muttering the new title from last year’s American remake of Alfredson’s previous picture: Let Me In!