Rapid Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
For decades, John le Carre’s Cold War tale of reserved (but keenly sharp) ex-intelligence officer George Smiley has been the gold standard for all that a successful spy novel should represent.
Tomas Alfredson’s 2011 film update keeps the terse, 1970s setting and mindset intact, casting a multitude of Brit scene-stealers to “occupy” the movie and keep the audience constantly on their toes.
At the center of the action is Gary Oldman as Smiley, a man who has been forced out of a career he wasn’t ready to let go of easily. British Intelligence (MI6/”The Circus”) is not quite done with him, however. He is brought back into the fray to uncover a mole within the organization. The title refers to the “code names” of each of the likely suspects.
There’s the new head of “The Circus” (Toby Jones) who is the “Tinker”, his deputy, the “Tailor” (Colin Firth), another inner circle member, Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) as the “Soldier”, and also Smiley himself, the “Beggarman”.
Smiley sets out on a journey to uncover the mole, with the help of two notable allies who are on very different ends of the moral spectrum. Benedict Cumberbatch is Peter Guillam, a handler and fellow MI-6 insider, and there’s also Guillam’s most important field agent, Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy), a man used to doing the dirty work for the “suits”; he has recently gone rogue with intel that could shake apart “The Circus”. Both Peter and Ricky have secrets and weak points in addition to their talents, and both Cumberbatch and Hardy bring depths to roles that might have been mere sidekicks in a lesser film.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a fairly standard tale if you can keep the various players straight, but it is executed well, and the performances by all involved elevate it from being merely average to tense and interesting. The pacing, flashback sequences and large laundry list of characters may be challenging for the average movie-goer who is no doubt more used to explosions and loud music as indicators of suspense, as opposed to the slow build presented here.
The styling and sets of the film add to the insular feel of a world where monumental decisions are made behind tightly sealed doors and in hospital-like rooms. It’s not a pretty scenario, although perhaps function precedes form when it comes to politics.
Oldman is a masterful Smiley, a man who isn’t very charismatic or likeable, and yet has a keen and acute mind. Oldman, who has played everyone from Beethoven to Dracula, is an actor who knows how to inhabit a role seamlessly and with great agility. He’s utterly believable as the silent but commanding Smiley.
Overall, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an entertaining glimpse at a more realistic sort of espionage, a world where those at the top look more like wizened grandfathers than movie-ready super spies. These are perhaps the most dangerous men of all – these gents whose surface impressions are so very difficult to crack. Then again, that’s what makes them so perfect for the job.
Overall Grade: B +