Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam, Gary Oldman as George Smiley
Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam, Gary Oldman as George Smiley

Kathleen Murphy hails a superb new film:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy begins in darkness. Some of that dark shapes itself into silhouette, knocks on a door. A wizened old fellow materializes in a wedge of wan light: "You weren't followed, were you? Will you come in?" And finally, "Trust no one."

Thus does director Tomas Alfredson formally signal the nature of the haunted house we're invited to enter. The elements of that unsettling prologue—mysterious shade admitted from mausoleum dark by ancient gatekeeper—suggest horror movie, especially Alfredson's breakout vampire film Let the Right One In (2008). We're primed for the perfectly crafted Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to be a spook show in more ways than one. A meticulously visualized anatomy of melancholy, this challenging movie freezes you to the edge of your seat, adrenalized with terror and pity.

Alfredson seamlessly merges the genres of espionage and horror: John le Carré's dispassionate Cold War spycraft now plays out in a tomb-world, sucked dry of air and color, prowled by walking dead. Let the Right One In used vampirism as metaphor for essential, if perverse and fleeting, human connection; Tinker Tailor expands the metaphor to embrace the human condition as an awful state of suspended animation, in a climate that withers love or faith.

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