On the way out, I commented that this should really have been a miniseries, since Gary Oldman is conducting an investigation into Tinker (Toby Jones), Tailor (Colin Firth), Soldier (Ciaran Hinds) and Poor Man (David Dencik of both Dragon Tattoo and its remake) but we know nothing about the four men, so aren’t invested in the outcome (except through the cathartic rifle-shot of tortured ex-operative Mark Strong). And Chris told me it WAS a miniseries, starring Alec Guinness. Not only that, I now see that Tinker Tailor follows The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, and is followed by Smiley’s People (another miniseries), all tied into a seven-part series of novels. So this two-hour movie is hardly the whole story.

Colin Firth is hiding behind Poor Man’s head:

But as a film, it works. Alfredson (Film-grain-happy director of Let The Right One In, with the same cinematographer) has the best cast you could hope for, including Gary Oldman as the lead, John Hurt as the (late) boss of it all, and someone named Benedict Cumberbatch (TV’s latest Sherlock Holmes) as Oldman’s main man. Such a very British cast and film (plus a notable scene in Hungary), I’m surprised they hired a Swede to direct.

It’s complicated how Oldman identifies the mole in MI6’s spy ring – something to do with a Russian who’s fed information by everybody, but only true information by one of them (Firth, of course, since he’s the most respectable-looking of the crew). Side plots include Tom Hardy (who was he in Inception?) hiding out at Oldman’s place with his flashback story of a woman he failed to save, Cumberbatch’s file-snatching escapade (spying on the spies), Firth stealing Oldman’s wife, and the sad, trailer-by-the-river life of Mark Strong.

For once, it actually worked out. I read rave reviews of a foreign film in magazines, a month or two later there’s an enticing trailer on the apple site, another month later the film actually opens – on film, in a real movie theater, in Atlanta. Compare to Opera Jawa: rave reviews in magazines, no trailer, two years later it gets two barely-advertised DVD screenings at GSU – and that’s still better than most Cinema Scope-blessed foreign films, which will never even see a video release here.

Movie has a striking look, everything so well composed (minus 10% of the top, which Regal chopped off as usual), really drew me in. An absorbing film. Bloody violence and death is handled unusually well, keeping the gruesome parts offscreen but leaving you no doubt at all what just happened. Not to say there’s no graphic horror – severed head falling into the pool, the guy falling out a high window and whanging into the building on the way down – but the horror was never the draw, movie was never reveling in gore, so when some is shown it’s more shocking. Yeah, I loved this.

Oskar, 12, has divorced parents, lives with his mom in an apartment complex, visits his dad every couple weeks, and gets relentlessly bullied at school. Eli, 12 in appearance, is a neighborhood vampire girl he meets and befriends. Eli’s caretaker-human, father-figure Hakan, moves himself and Eli from town to town, kills people and brings Eli the blood, but doesn’t seem too competent at it. A group of middle-aged friends starts to catch on to the killings and circle in on vampire and crew (in a very grounded way, no movie-hero vigilantes). Blond weakling Oskar gains confidence from his new friendship, starts to work out after school and assert himself, bashing his longtime bully in the head on a school trip. As all the threads start to come together, Hakan is killed, Eli is left to her own devices, and the bully’s crazed older brother decides to kill Oskar, leading to a breathtaking (ha) climactic scene at the school swimming pool. Ends with Oskar & Eli leaving town by train, Oskar likely to become the new Hakan, bittersweet.

Tomas Alfredson made a much-loved 3+ hour ensemble drama a few years ago called Four Shades of Brown, before that did mostly TV miniseries. Director of Cloverfield will supposedly be remaking this – a movie which is great because of its beauty and stillness. Makes sense. Sweden should respond by having Liv Ullmann remake The Dark Knight.

EDIT: Saw this again with Jimmy, because it’s still playing to enthusiastic audiences three months later… hooray!