Notable Cast: Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch
Review: Quick wit, sharp tongues, and a never-ending vocabulary: that is the weaponry of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Our warriors, if you will, are armed with nothing but their brainpower, piecing together an espionage puzzle in the height of the Cold War. Thomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In) has already made his mark on the horror genre with his incredibly story driven child vampire film, but it’s refreshing to see him tackle a different genre of movie instead of playing safe. Too often directors strike gold early, and make it their mission to achieve the same success again. Not Alfredson. Adapting the renown John le Carré novel and updating from the 1979 film version starring Alec Guinness, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a dialogue driven spy caper which focuses on the psychological aspects instead of rip-roaring action. No Jason Bourne or James Bond to be found anywhere, just Gary Oldman and his investigative mind. Tinker sets the bar early for ensemble casts, but the pace putters out at times from an overload of dry conversation. Inarguably intelligent and riveting, Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy might have benefitted from a jolt in action here and there, but maybe the beauty existed in the rye stylings of deception. No shootouts or car chases needed?
At the height of the Cold War, loyalty meant everything. Trust was a value of the past, seeing informants infiltrate even the most secure enemy strong points. In this case, British Intelligence (The Circus as it’s called) agents get wind that a spy has made his way up to the highest status, being one of only a few men. George Smiley (Oldman) was forced from his position some time before, but is called back by Control (Hurt) to pinpoint the mole who has been leaking intelligence to the Russians. With everyone suspect and accusations swirling, Smiley must play detective, catching even the most insignificant of clues if he wants to discreetly finger the double agent without making too much noise. But with corruption already rooted deeply into such influential positions, Smiley’s nemesis has the unfortunate advantage of knowing his hunter’s plans. A dangerous game of cat and mouse is played, with World War 3 hanging delicately in the balance. No pressure.
Gary Oldman doing his best Bill Nigh (the actor, not the Science Guy) impression…
Where Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy soars is presenting the material with such subtleties in tact. The smallest action does not go unnoticed, and is tied in somehow to the criss crossing story. The same goes for the overarching aura of paranoia, as each character always seems suspect. As I said, Tinker is an extremely intelligent thriller, not a paint by numbers, that demands the utmost attention from viewers. If not, you’ll find yourself clamoring to recognize new characters or hear soft hints while the plot flies ahead with no help. I can’t wait for a second viewing honestly, possibly turning Tinker into one of those films where knowing the ending actually benefits flow of the story. Oldman does a fantastic job orchestrating the chaos, playing an especially smooth investigator who never lets the case jar him. Even though most of the film Smiley is in the dark and trying to figure out the case on his own, Oldman portrays the character with a certain ego and confidence that always makes you feel like he’s in control. There’s no uncertainty in his actions, which contrasts brilliantly with all the other characters who cower and dodge questions like bullets. Smiley on the other hand could have had a gun to his head, but still exude a cocky sense of “I know your next 10 steps.” Being so early in the year, I can’t jump to conclusions and demand Gary Oldman win the Oscar for his portrayal of George Smiley, but he’s damn well entertaining and professional with his performance.
The presences of other actors are felt as well, not to give Oldman all the credit. Toby Jones is perfect for this type of role, as his weak, weaslish looks fit that of a traitor to a tee. The always dramatic Colin Firth works in an opposite way, expressing a persona that begs to be a ruse. On looks alone, both are great plants by the filmmaker, using smart casting choices to influence the audience. Tom Hardy only bolsters his mounting stardom, taking a back seat to badass and playing a character who fears for his life. Performance wise it was nice to see Hardy break down emotionally for a change instead of breaking people’s faces.
But, in no way is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for everyone. The long, drawn out story will prove too taxing for some, sitting through two hours of lengthy dialogue. Mind you, I still hold the conversations and interrogations as genius, but undeniably bland at times. Nothing really escalates in physicality, just quick tongued Brits rolling off coy statements, and when any yelling or outbursts start our characters quickly quell them as to not draw attention. The simplicity that sticks with the story is that of clean, rational, and thought-provoking conversation, but nothing all too hair-raising. I’d say out of the total two hours, about ten minutes are devoted to some type of pace shifting action, mainly found in Hardy’s flashback.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy will only appease those in the right mood, but with the proper expectations, Alfredson’s spy thriller is a must-see mystery. No cheap tricks or false advertising; the answers are right in front of you…given you can catch them all. It’s a tad hard not to get bogged down with all the information being thrown at you sometimes, so note that patience is required. Remember, patience is also a virtue though, so immersing yourself in the impenetrable story will be required. I can look past all the jawing and respect the fact that while heavy with detail, script wise the writing is extremely spot on and never gets convoluted via execution. Just because I’m confused doesn’t make it a good mystery. Anyone could write a story so winding viewers are lost in a matter of minutes, but it takes true skill to tell a story for two hours that never looses the tone of real, enticing suspense. Tinker does just that, thanks to a strong script and world-class caliber acting.
Final Rating: 8 silly code names out of 10