When the Best Film nominations were announced last week for this year's Academy Awards, it was nothing short of a travesty that this film was overlooked. Yes, the nomination of Gary Oldman goes some way to soften the blow, but there is no doubt in my mind that Tinker deserved a nod ahead of at least two of those which made the final short-list. Which two? Tree of Life and The War Horse if you must ask. Tinker is an absolute triumph of tentative, measured story-telling: an intricately crafted, slow-burning thriller that sacrifices the vulgarities of empty spectacle to concentrate on minimalist and utterly compelling claustrophobia. It is driven by intrigue, revealed slowly in a grander, older detective tradition that has been forced to the background in modern cinema by audiences itching for explosive action and steadier pace. It also boasts a hell of a lot of talent. Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Kathy Burke, Stephen Graham, David Dencik and Ciran Hinds: is this the greatest British emsemble cast ever? It surely must be a contender, and the performance of the cast en masse makes it rather unfortunate that there was no room at the Academies to change the rules a little to include an emsemble performance in the Best Supporting Actor field. To mention one would be to do disservice to the rest of the supporting cast, but Cumberbatch, Strong, Burke and Hardy can certainly be proud of their own part in the film, especially in such lauded company. The plot runs something like this: MI6 retiree, George Smiley (Oldman), is covertly invited back to the organisation in order to uncover a Soviet-planted mole who has infiltrated the very top level of power. Accompanied by Peter Guillam (Cumberbatch), Smiley starts to investigate from the shadows, with the highest powers in MI6 - Bill Hayden (Firth), Percy Alleline (Jones), Roy Bland (Hinds), and Toby Esterhase (Dencik) - all implicated in the conspiracy, and each linked to potentially catastrophic threads that threaten to unravel the mystery of which man is the traitor. This is undoubtedly one of the single most technically accomplished films of the modern era: at times it looks like it is designed and aimed squarely at those who admire the mechanics of film-making, and inexplicit love-letter to the wizardry behind the screen. But there is also a lot to be enjoyed for more casual viewers, if they can get over the rather tentative, but completely appropriate pacing. Some have pointed at the lack of immediate danger as a problem, but the entire point of the narrative is to show how deeply rooted the mole is in the upper levels of MI6, and has been for some time. There is no place for explosive danger or action spectacle, because the threat that comes from within is rightly conceived as a slow-bleeding wound. Yes, it will inevitably lead to the death of the animal, but not with a bang, and the brilliant, claustrophic tension created by that approach would have been completely compromised by the alternative. The bulk of praise will inevitably fall to Gary Oldman, who is sublimely understated as Smiley, and proves once more that acting is so much more than mugging to camera. He does more with a slight look, or gesture than most can manage with ten times the movements, and he has a wonderfully evocative knack of weaving a loaded backstory into his character through the way he carries himself that the script never needs to fully realise on-screen. He is rightly up for the best actor gong, and it is only the presence of Jean Dujardin on the same award's bill that might scupper his chance of a first win.
Tinker is a largely dark film, which can often spell doom for high-definition transfers, but it has the advantage of being a new source, so none of the usual problems linked to conversion with particularly dark scenes. Despite the muted palette, colours remain natural and life-like, notably in facial tones, and black levels and shadow tones are excellent throughout. There is an evident level of film grain, but it seems completely appropriate and you get the sense that it was a conscious decision by Tomas Alfredson not to remove it in order to add a nostalgic edge to the image. There are no obvious signs of troublesome tinkering, and all-in-all it is a mighty fine visual transfer, whose quality is more than matched with a stunning, understated audio track. Dialogue is pitch perfect and crystal clear, and background noise is richly layered to add to the atmospherics.
It's great to see a commentary, and one especially that features insight from Gary Oldman on his own performance is invaluable, while the John Le Carre interview is the real pick of the bunch of a good number of extras. The author seems content to talk at length, and offers wonderful engaging insight into his most iconic creation Smiley, and it's good to see service paid to the author which such an interview. There are a number of other interviews with cast and crew, and some behind-the-scenes featurettes rounding out the disc, along with a photo gallery - but the lack of a more comprehensive behind the scenes feature is conspicuous, and could have made the difference to the star rating here. Commentary with Gary Oldman and director Tomas Alfredson John le Carré Interview Deleted Scenes Smiley featurette Inside the Circus featurette Shadow World featurette Interview with Colin Firth Interview with Tom Hardy Interview with Director Tomas Alfredson and screenwriter Peter Straughan UK Premiere featurette Sky Movies featurette Photo Gallery Trailers Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is available to buy on blu-ray and DVD now.
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