I haven't read the book. Spy or crime fiction is too plot-heavy for me to really be interested, the only thing that really attracts me is the noiry mood and themes. Happily, it's all about mood in Alfredson's film. I'm comforted by the fact that few could follow the ins and outs of the investigation completely. I just about managed to get the overall contours of the picture, but I wouldn't be able to give the details.
Reviewers got all poetic trying to describe the film's atmosphere... I could litter descriptors like 'coffee-soaked', 'cigarette-stained', 'mouldy' and '1970s' around, but I think my favourite would be 'geriatric', because it describes the lethargic pace quite well, and because it is all about wizened spies living with their crimes. They are all poisonous toads. Ricki, whose hands drip with blood, has the right idea when he says he doesn't want to grow old and become like the rest of them.
It's a formidable roster of actors Alfredson marshals up. All do sterling work. Gary Oldman wears a mask for most of the film, the cinematographer just moving some lights around when he needed to look tired or kindly or sinister. Both of them deserve some kind of recognition.
I did need more on the mole's treason for aesthetic reasons. The film goes out of its way to look as drab as possible, but it's not like what we see of Budapest or Moscow is flashier. Haydon is a bit of a dandy, a philanderer. Perhaps the Orientals were more attractive than the stuffy alcoholics he was surrounded by. As for Karla, a bit like Lord Sauron, he stays an incorporeal menace. We are told "the fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt", but that may just be Smiley's delusion. He can't see a weakness so he makes one up. Smiley is not a fanatic. He knows exactly how compromised his own side is. He strikes me as the consummate professional, loyal to Control because Control was always right. Loyal to his wife and his country, despite their betrayals.