This week's movie releases

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson's outstanding new adaptation of John le Carré's 1970s spy novel, first filmed as a 1979 BBC TV series with Alec Guinness.

Nowadays, of course, it's a period piece and Alfredson (Let the Right One In) has recreated the era meticulously, layering the frame with stacks of files, clackety teletype machines and plumes of cigarette smoke to create a world where the truth is hidden and mistrust everywhere.

Peering through it all in specs the size of French windows is Gary Oldman as George Smiley, the retired intelligence officer on the hunt for a Soviet mole at the top of MI6. His suspects are the old colleagues with whom he rose up the ranks: Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). And it's true that as much as this is a Cold War thriller, it's also about the dark realities of the spy life.

Often dubbed the anti-Bond, Smiley inhabits a world where personal relationships are at best defective and office politics played out at Olympic standard. In this steely setting, you suspect, 007 wouldn't have even made it past teaboy.

A tense, dense and highly accomplished movie.

The latest from Ken Loach, Route Irish takes its title from the nickname for the Baghdad Airport-Green Zone highway, the most dangerous road in the world.

It's there that ex-soldier Frankie (John Bishop) is killed while working as a security contractor in circumstances that don't quite add up for best pal Fergus (Mark Womack), who starts digging deeper.

Written by regular (Madrid-based) Loach collaborator Paul Laverty, it's a potent Iraq War detective drama comparable to Tommy Lee Jones' In the Valley of Elah, even if the genre elements and Loach's familiar realism don't always gel.

Christmas chills

Festive family fare comes in the form of Disney's 1994 classic The Lion King, re-released in 3D, and Spanish live action-animation adventure Copito de Nieve (or, Snowflake), inspired by Barcelona zoo's late albino gorilla.

Elsewhere, though, it's all Christmas chills. Presented by Guillermo de Toro and based on a 1973 TV movie, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark stars Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes as a couple renovating a Rhode Island mansion while their neglected young daughter (Bailee Madison) frees an army of evil pint-sized monsters in the basement.

And just when you thought Xmas couldn't get scarier, there's Garry Marshall's New Year's Eve. A portmanteau romcom in the mold of his previous Valentine's Day, it features a star-studded cast - Halle Berry, Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Sarah Jessica Parker - and, by all accounts, holiday horrors even more heinous.

Gary Oldman as George Smiley in <i>Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.</i>
Gary Oldman as George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

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