I almost forgot to write about this one. Like many people, I’m a fan of Tomas Alfredson’s last feature, 2008’s Let The Right One In. The film combined an unnerving sense of character isolation with a desolate space, excellent production design, and direction that was less horror-oriented (odd for a vampire film) and actually geared more towards that of quiet drama.
2011’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, adapted from the famous John Le Carré Cold War novel, features all of the above, yet in a new language and genre. The plot is not so much convoluted, as it seeks to avoid histrionic thriller moments. Indeed, some of the more dramatic points in here are shot as almost happenstance, with an eye towards the mundane (perhaps that’s the point: the overtly/overly dramatic frequently happens, it’s just rarely observed). Gary Oldman plays Smiley – an MI6 agent forced into early retirement, called back into action to ascertain the identity of a mole within the organization. The supporting cast of characters and suspects, including the almost-as-pervasive-as-Fassbender-or-Gosling Thomas Hardy, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch are outrageously good, but it’s Oldman in a career-role – dour, intelligent, keen-eyed – who pulls all eyes towards him.
As other critics have, I’m sure, already noted, Le Carré’s plot nearly takes a back seat to the production design, cinematography, and ultimately, mood of the film. Tinker, Tailor was shot by Hoyte Van Hoytema, who also lensed Let The Right One In (and David O. Russell’s massively overrated The Fighter). The production was designed by Maria Djurkovic, whose credits include everything from oddball Woody Allen’s (Scoop), to big musicals (Mamma Mia) to other period pieces (The Hours).
The skills of Van Hoytema and Djurkovic, when combined under Alfredson’s watchful eye, are immense. Tinker, Tailor is bathed in soft, hazy light, as though all of the motel rooms, offices, and cafes where its characters interact are as tired and worn as the people themselves. The color scheme is muted, but the design is frequently busy: crowded rooms, jagged wallpaper. In every location there is something to look at other than the simple blocking and dialogue that makes up the slowly progressing plot.
And Alfredson’s way of capturing these images – stolen glances (there’s a lot of POV in this film), lonely wide-shots – echo the sentiments that pervaded Let The Right One In: a displaced character forced to interact in a rapidly evolving world.
Because it’s not out of the theaters just yet it’s difficult for me to find any images for the film outside of publicity stills, but I’ve included a few below.
Lots of Gary Oldman love! I like these images because they represent one of the many strategies that Alfredson and co. employ in the film. That is: framing Oldman alone, but placing other, slight images in the frame to also draw the eye. This is most apparent in the top two, where the first frame is very nearly a 2-shot with Oldman and the light. The light is also brighter than him.
The theme continues in the second frame, though not as dramatically, where bright spots (the parking lot lights) make up the background of the image. The give it some depth, but also call attention to the ceiling and that background.
The final image – which should eventually be iconic for its design – is of the meeting room where MI6 holds its private conversations. The sound-proof, yellow walls aren’t as bright as Oldman, but the busy design and the sharply contrasting color scheme do seem to box him in.
I think that the reasoning for these images is apparent: Alfredson is using elements within the frame (light, color, placement of objects) to counter-balance Oldman, or even thwart his authority. Given the context of suspicion, paranoia and doubt, this is perfectly appropriate.