Gary Oldman plays stealthy intelligence officer George Smiley in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” (Focus Features)
There's a cool brilliance to "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" that works perfectly in tandem with Gary Oldman's taut central performance.
It's as if actor and film are performing some cerebral waltz together. The result is a daringly smart film that challenges you to pay attention to its many fine details while satisfying mightily.
Oldman plays George Smiley in this film of John le Carre's complex, low-key thriller, which has been adapted with startling clarity by Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughn. As the film opens, Smiley, an aging Cold War spymaster in Britain, is being forced into retirement.
It soon becomes clear to the government, though, that there's a mole within the intelligence agency, and Smiley is called upon to investigate his former comrades.
He reaches out to a young associate still within the agency (up-and-comer Benedict Cumberbatch) to help him suss out which upper-level intelligence officer is playing footsie with the Russians.
Much intrigue ensues as Smiley makes small moves this way and that, uncovering little things that lead to bigger revelations. This film is as intricately plotted and intentionally dense as any in memory, yet it all adds up astoundingly well.
The Cold War atmosphere and inherent paranoia of the spy world is captured perfectly by stylish Swedish director Tomas Alfredson ("Let the Right One In"), and the cast is a virtual who's who of male British acting royalty — Colin Firth, John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Mark Strong.
Ultimately, though, it is very much Oldman's film, thanks to a restrained tour de force performance. Smiley is weathered, worn and beaten down by life, but he's also a quiet, sure force of something that resembles good.
He is a grey beam of hope, but a beam of hope nonetheless. Let us pray there are still some real George Smileys out there.