One of my favorite movies of the last few years is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy based on John Le Carre’s novel of the same name. It stars Gary Oldman as George Smiley who must search for a potential mole in the UK’s MI5 during the Cold War. It is a fantastic spy thriller with a lead character that has often been described as the anti-Bond. One who does not partake in the action, but rather uses his methodical wits to save the day. The movie is still thrilling, particularly the opening scene where two men are just sitting drinking at a cafe. Tension is brimming throughout the film due a taught Academy-Award nominated script by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughn and masterfully directed by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In). But perhaps the most praise I can give this brilliant film is to its lead actor, Gary Oldman.
Gary Oldman is arguably one of the greatest actors working today. The man is a true chameleon, transforming his voice, face, mannerisms, and movement to bring a character to life. Think of any movie he has been in and think about how amazing he was. Even in films like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, where his character is often just giving speeches through a megaphone, Oldman still brings a great deal of humanity and emotion to the character. He brings a lot to a role, and often relishes playing the weird, the bad, or the larger than life characters. Check out this clip of Gary Oldman as one of my favorite characters of his, as Drexl in True Romance:
He is insanely good! The makeup, the dreads, the accent, it’s so bizarre, but Oldman makes it all so believable. Now watch him in perhaps the best scene in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. This clip could be considered a spoiler, so fair warning.
Damn, I love how that scene is like a one-man play being captured on film. No flashbacks, little cuts back to Benedict Cumberbatch’s character. The focus is solely on Gary Oldman, because he absolutely owns this scene. This scene features possibly the most outwardly visible emotion and dialogue from Oldman. He often plays Smiley as this still, quiet, purposeful, deliberate gentleman’s spy. Yet in the scene above, he shows a looser, a little tipsy Smiley who can’t shake his past, and one who is so different from Drexl. The characters are at opposite ends of the intensity spectrum, which just goes to show how outstanding Gary Oldman can be.
Smiley is a man who observes, who listens, who thinks and analyzes instead of reacting. He remains cautious and intelligent. His calmness and intelligence are his superpowers as he unravels the mystery presented to him in the film. It is a fascinating character to watch because, as an audience member, you want to learn more about this quiet individual, this person who lives a contemplative life, but Oldman holds back so much, and only reveals the inner workings of Smiley when absolutely necessary, like in the above scene.
Oldman is breathtaking in the role, from the smallest of gestures to amazing monologues. It is, to use an old expression, a masterclass in acting. Smiley is another wonderful character created by Gary Oldman. It is one I adore and look forward to witnessing many more times.