Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: The Many Faces of George Smiley

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Many Faces of George Smiley

by Tony Dayoub

Though Gary Oldman came up empty at the BAFTAs this past weekend, he still stands a slim chance of being recognized at the upcoming Academy Awards for his career-best turn as graying spymaster George Smiley in Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. His first nomination, it is perhaps the most deserved one of all the performances nominated for Best Actor this year. For Oldman – usually a kinetic and, at times, even bombastic performer – the role of Smiley offered the challenge of playing a spy accustomed to fading into the background. Projecting a facial expression so passive it could almost be labeled a mask, Oldman allows a glimpse into Smiley’s inner life through his aqueous eyes which betray volatility more in line with the rest of the actor’s notable roles. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is about a Secret Service in which aging lonely spies fight for dominance in the landscape of the Cold War, a field of battle over which they long ago chose to sacrifice any kind of private lives. Oldman’s Smiley is, then, a perfect distillation of director Tomas Alfredson’s rethink of John le CarrĂ©’s 1974 novel. But Oldman is following in the footsteps of many famed British actors who’ve assayed the role before him. Sir Alec Guinness’ depiction of Smiley is the most well-known, but many will be surprised to discover there were others.


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