Faithful to Le Carré's novel in both content and tone, the disgust at the hypocrisy/amoralism of cold war politics is brilliantly conveyed through the outstanding visual depiction of mid 60s London and Burton's electric and controlled performance. There are issues with pace and some of the writing but it remains one of the very best cold war thrillers with a distinctly sombre atmosphere and an acute sense of rage.
Certainly confussing and hard to follow for most parts. A Le Carré spy novel requires a certain pace and patiente to develop and assimilate the complexities of its intricate and misty plot, something that film is not often prepared to offer kindly. On the other hand Richard Burton carries the intrigue and conspicuous drama effortlessly in a classy and sober performance, the highlight of this film.
Richard Burton is once again effortlessly excellent, this time playing a spy caught up in the usual mix of gamesmanship and treachery that fans know to expect from author John Le Carre. The support cast is full of great players, the tension builds nicely throughout, and the third act is impressively grim and cynical. Superb stuff.
So, the black & white photography is stunning, the performances are riveting, and the last 25 minutes are genuinely gripping. But so much of at least the first 70 minutes of the film felt like treading water, rather than careful character building. And so, as much as I was actually really looking forward to watching the film despite my lack of enthusiasm for the genre, I was rather disappointed.
Look at Burton's eyes - they don't move. The chap is a universe of charisma and tension confined to the skin of a man. A once on a generation talent and I think this might be one of his best, most nuanced performances. The story is a great spy thriller. The atmosphere is built from the opening scene and this has made me go watch Tinker, Tailor with Alec Guinness.
When remembering this is around the James Bond era it really exposes the concept of the Spy being the person in control. In fact they are the pawns, chewed up and spat out for the use of a political cause. Very nice movie, not overplayed, some nice shots and an interesting addition to a usually hammed up subject.
Unlike the ridiculous Tinker, Tailor film of 2011, this production still has the stink of the Cold War upon it and performances to suit. London is fantastically dank and Burton once again reprises his existential hatred of all things human. Why? "So the moronic masses can sleep safely in their flea-bitten beds".
Will he come in from the cold and have a seat by the fireplace? Does he actually want to? does he even have a decision over that? A tormented man struggling to find warmth in the foul and murky world of mid century cold war that no one wants to see again but is perhaps just round the corner ( ie Litvinenko ) Richards relentlessly edgy and charged character caught between a rock and a hard place. Ace.
Ritt made some excellent films, and this is one of them. The camerawork is just beautiful, the pacing methodical, and he reigns in one of Burton's best performances of his career. This one has a markedly different feel from other 60's spy craze films (Ipcress File really the only similar one in execution). The recent restoration is a beautiful print and should be seen by all fans of b&w photography. 4.5 stars