Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
When we think of a spy movie we imagine Jason Bourne style running and jumping, 007 style gadgetry and Mission Impossible style stunts and face masks. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” based on the 1974 John Le Carre novel is probably more realistic than any of those billion dollar franchises. While we like to think that our nation’s spies are running and jumping through exotic locations, more than likely it is a bunch of men sitting around a room discussing and arguing in jargon and then constantly looking other their shoulders, suspicious of everyone.
George Smiley is a retired MI6 agent whom is asked right before he retires to try to locate a Soviet mole hidden within “The circus” The highest level echelon of the British intelligence during The Cold War.
It’s rare to see a film that is such a masterclass in good acting. The cast is a who’s who of premier British actors. Tinker Tailor would not be the great motion picture it is without its stellar cast. Gary Oldman, in an Oscar-worthy turn as George Smiley is quiet, subdued, but says it all in his eyes behind its wiry rounded spectacles. Oldman is best known to me as roles where he usually unleashes craziness (a Jamaican pimp in True Romance, a drugged out DEA agent in The Professional) and turns in a more toned-down performance that is a pinnacle of an already distinguished career. At first he seems like an odd choice for him to play such a complex role but as the movie unfolds you couldn’t see anyone else filling Smiley’s shoes. Other standout performances include Colin Firth and Toby Jones as members of the circus being investigated as potential moles. Both men always bring A-game performances to their roles especially the underrated Toby Jones whose character is manipulative as he is intimidating. Mark Strong and Tom Hardy who both seem to be everywhere this year turn up in memorable performances. Hardy has a great long monologue early on that displays his great acting chops that are a complete 360 from his bull-like character from this year’s “Warrior” Mark Strong who is great at playing villains has a fantastic role as Jim Prideaux who is probably the most sympathetic character in the film. The always reliable John Hurt also briefly appears as the head of The Circus in a role he could virtually play in his sleep. What’s best about these actors is that they are all such great character actors that they chameleon into their roles seamlessly that the authenticity of their character is never questioned or feels unrealistic.
The film is based off of a 70’s cold war novel and adapted from a BBC miniseries and from what I can tell does a pretty fair job of getting the most details out of its intricate plot. However its biggest fault is that the movie is insanely hard to follow and that if you blink you miss key information. What some might say is its biggest weakness is all its biggest strength as the film warrants many repeat viewings to fully understand the complexities of the plot and characters. The film’s fantastic trailer also marketed it as an intense suspenseful spy drama and it is but nowhere near as intense as you think (save for a few key scenes including a brilliant conversation on an airstrip and a nail biting opening scene). While some scenes and conversations are intense the movie is much more like a chess match that slowly unfolds in front of the viewer and rewards those who were willing to sit patiently and pay attention, a rare thing in cinema these days.
Director Tomas Alfredson does a great job of balancing the story and characters amidst fabulous production design, costume, and cinematography that perfectly capture the cold, bleak feel of 1970’s London. A great example is the great production design of the room where “the circus” meets. A complete turnaround from his brilliant adaption of “Let the Right One In” that was mostly dark colored with a blue, snowy tint while Tinker is more of a 70’s washed out, technicolor look. Alfredson reveals himself as a top-notch filmmaker with the direction that’s damn near perfect. The film is a great homage to 70’s era political intrigue thrillers that never compromises the integrity of its story for modern audiences. While I’m happy the age of cold war paranoia has come and gone, thrillers like “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is the exception where the phrase “They don’t make em’ like they used to.” is an accurate description.