Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writers: Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan
Stars: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberpatch, John Hurt
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film based on a John le Carre novel of the same name. I am going to take the advice of JoTheBW, a vlogger I found while looking for the trailer. Instead of starting her review with her own synopsis, she just read the book jacket; so I will read the description from Amazon. I do this not out of laziness, but out of the belief that you would need at least a Master’s in English Composition to successfully summarize the plot in one or two paragraphs. That being said, here you go: “The man he knew as “Control” (John Hurt) is dead, and the young Turks who forced him out now run the Circus. But George Smiley (Gary Oldman) isn’t quite ready for retirement-especially when a pretty, would-be defector surfaces with a shocking accusation: a Soviet mole has penetrated the highest level of British Intelligence. Relying only on his wits and a small, loyal cadre, Smiley recognizes the hand of Karla-his Moscow Centre nemesis-and sets a trap to catch the traitor.” The story is set in the 70s during the Cold War and involves the British and Soviet Intelligence Agencies.
First, I loved this film. Second, it is not for everyone. The pacing is deliberately slow, and the story demands all of your attention. I knew from reading Connie Ogle’s review in The Miami Herald, and Rene Rodriguez’s (the regular film critic for The Herald) Facebook comment about being lost within the first ten minutes of the film that I had to stay focused. That being said, you should also know the term “Circus” refers to the British Intelligence Agency and not an actual circus like one used in the much underappreciated James Bond movie Octopussy.
The direction by Tomas Alfredson is superb, and the look of the film is appropriately bleak & downtrodden. The score fits the Cold War setting and adds tension. Scenes are well shot and blocked. Little details are allowed to be shown: the small piece of paper or wood that Smiley puts on the hinge side of his door to see if someone has opened it or not, and Smiley removing his shoes so he can walk across a wood floor in sox and not make any noise are two that come to mind. The opening credit scene with a disgraced Control and a forced out Smiley leaving the Circus’ office is a masterwork of showing and not telling: the young Turks glee to see them off; the security of the top-floor brass; the mundane bureaucracy of the lower floors; the sadness of the support personnel as Control & Smiley walk by them, supposedly never to return. The film comes full-circle at the end when this scene is reversed to the French Song “Le Mer”, and Smiley takes his seat at the head of the Circus.
In a cast that includes almost every great male British character actor, three stand-out. Gary Oldman has never been more subdued or looked older. His portrayal of George Smiley shows the character’s weariness and moral ambiguity. His monologue regarding the time he tried to convince a Soviet agent to defect is made powerful by the quiet way it is delivered and the emotional exhaustion Oldman conveys in giving it. Oldman’s Smiley is no tired bureaucrat, but a quiet man capable of evil things. The second actor is the recipient of the monologue, Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam, Smiley’s loyal confidant. That loyalty puts the Guillam character into conflict with the same agency he works for, and this causes him conflict that Cumberbatch effectively shows. And like Smiley he is no simple bureaucrat, but a dangerous company man. He looks like what I imagine a British agent to look like: thin, elegant, and slightly menacing. But he is still a human being with emotions and weaknesses. The scene in which Guillam has to leave his male lover because he may also be being watched is truly emotional. The last is Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr. Hardy is an actor that always seems to look different in every role, but remains recognizable. As Ricki he convinces you that this is a man on the edge and wants to get away. I felt for him at the end of the film as he was waiting for someone that was not coming back.
This is a film to enjoy for the small details and nuances. Details more easily witnessed on the big screen in a dark theatre. If you want an old fashioned Cold War thriller that is going to force you to think and pay attention, then this is your film.
Grade = A
P.S. I liked the film so much I included a second trailer below.