Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

By James Jay Edwards
Released: December 9, 2011
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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the long-awaited feature film version of John le Carre's classic bestselling novel. The thriller is directed by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In). The screenplay adaptation is by the writing team of Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan.

The time is 1973. The Cold War of the mid-20th Century continues to damage international relations. Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), a.k.a. MI6 and code-named the Circus, is striving to keep pace with other countries' espionage efforts and to keep the U.K. secure. The head of the Circus, known as Control (John Hurt), personally sends dedicated operative Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) into Hungary. But Jim's mission goes bloodily awry, and Control is forced out of the Circus - as is his top lieutenant, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a career spy with razor-sharp senses.

Novel, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" by John Le Carre: Kindle / Print Edition Nook Edition icon
Film Review
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy stars Gary Oldman (Leon: The Professional, The Dark Knight) as George Smiley, a retired British spy who is brought back into active duty to catch a Russian mole who has been detected inside of the upper echelon of MI6, the British intelligence agency. George goes about investigating the mole with the help of his most trusted agents, Percy Alleline (Toby Jones from Captain America: The First Avenger) and Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch from The Other Boleyn Girl). Together, the agents uncover a complicated plot of murder and betrayal that is chock full of double agents, defectors, prisoners and moles. The deeper they get into the investigation, the more that they realize that absolutely no one is above suspicion.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was directed by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) from a script written by Peter Straughan (The Men Who Stare At Goats, The Debt). It's based on the novel by John le Carre of the same name, which has also previously been made into a television mini-series. Although the film is less convoluted than the mini-series, it is still an intelligent movie with a very complex plot, made even more complex by the sometimes indecipherable accents of some of the characters. Still, it's engaging and captivating, and it is easy to get caught up in the details of the story.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a great throwback to the old espionage films like Three Days of the Condor. Being character driven, and having a lot of cookie-cutter characters, it drags a bit at times, but the plot commands the viewers attention if only so that they can keep up - it's a very cerebral movie with a lot of information to take in, and much of it is revealed through dialogue as opposed to action. Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is not a James Bond-type of spy movie, and nothing gets blown up; it's not an action film, it is a tense thriller that works the brain more than it works the heart.
The role of George Smiley is one of Gary Oldman's more vanilla roles, but what does one expect from a man who has played Dracula, Sid Vicious and Lee Harvey Oswald? Nevertheless, Oldman puts himself into the passive role of a character who observes more than he participates, who lets things happen to him instead of making things happen himself. Oldman is a perfect spy, investigating without letting on what he knows and trusting no one in the process. He almost hides behind his character's trademark glasses, giving him even more of a stoical expression. The key to George Smiley is his analytical lack of emotion, and Oldman delivers as he always does.

The rest of the cast is great as well, making the wordy, dialogue driven script as entertaining as it is thought provoking. Toby Jones and Benedict Cumberbatch are both perfect as Percy and Peter, respectively, and notable performances are also turned in by Colin Firth (better known as King George VI in The King's Speech) as Hayden, one of Percy's aides and John Hurt (better known for having a creature burst out of his chest in Alien) as Control, the former chief of British intelligence. Many of the roles are archetypical spies, but the performances keep them from becoming too boring or bland.
Having worked with Alfredson on Let the Right One In, director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema (who also shot The Fighter) knows how to help the director realize his vision. Van Hoytema creates a tribute to the old classic spy films of the seventies with his work on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The colors are flat and drab, giving the film a vintage look that goes along with the era and subject matter. He also makes great use of reflections in both windows and mirrors to reveal and overlap different images, giving depth to otherwise shallow shots. Van Hoytema's outstanding photography adds to the trench coat feel of the film, and helps the picture not only pay homage to the genre, but also break new ground. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is influenced by the past, but is also shot creatively in its own right.

Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Release Date
December 9, 2011
MPAA Rating
Running Time
127 minutes
Production Designer
Music Score