Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an espionage thriller based on the 1974 novel by John le Carré. It focuses on the efforts of a “retired” intelligence officer to ferret out a mole at the very highest level of the British intelligence community.
The movie is thoughtfully paced, which is good… because it gives you a LOT to think about. It creates an atmosphere thick with intrigue and suspense, then lays out one of the most intricately detailed plots you could wish for.
Do some Sudoku or crossword puzzles or something to warm your brain up before heading into the theatre on this one folks. This is the antithesis of the “dumbed down” movie. It’s a thinking person’s movie through and through.
George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is a high-ranking British intelligence expert who is forced into retirement along with his direct superior. It turns out to be a fortunate occurrence however, as it leaves him uniquely situated to investigate rumors of a “mole” that began to surface at roughly the same time that he retired. The information he is given indicates that the mole is at the very top levels of the British intelligence community, and is leaking valuable information to the Soviets.
Smiley takes the assignment. With the help of a couple of assistants, he begins to pull the thread and unravel the conspiracy. There are four men of rank, Smiley’s ex-peers, who are under suspicion. Smiley focuses his efforts on learning the details surrounding the shooting of an operative in Hungary - a man he suspects had his cover blown by the mole – and begins to work his way towards the truth.
Director Tomas Alfredson does an incredible job here. He creates a movie that has the feel of a film from the 1970s… a time where plot was paramount and people were given credit as an audience that they could follow complex events. Alfredson gives you absolutely the minimal amount of information you need to connect the dots, and then when you make the connection, its a very rewarding experience. He sets a pace with the film that’s steady, not slow. It was obvious to me that this was a very deliberate film, but I never felt bored. The tension was too high.
I was fascinated as I watched the teletype messages come across, watched files get swiped, watched safes open… There were covers and interrogations, assassinations… THIS is a spy movie. No outrageous gadgets, no karate, no car chases. Just an intricate game of chess. A cat and mouse game between a double agent and the agent in pursuit. It has a fantastic period feel to it, they really did a great job turning back the clock to a bygone day when the cold war was being fought via battles just like this.
The cast is ridiculously excellent here. The term “Embarrassment of Riches” comes to mind. Aside from the strong lead from Gary Oldman, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik, Colin Firth and Toby Jones all give great supporting roles as the men under suspiscion of being double agents. Benedict Cumberbatch has some of the tensest moments in the movie as the operative who plays Smiley’s right hand man, and Tom Hardy is – again – amazing as an operative who knows too much. The fact that he is going to be a huge star is one of the surest bets on the board at this point.
I was very impressed with this film’s ability to incrementally bring you along. To pace itself jussssst right and give you the facts in a steady manner. The acting was great, the look and feel of the film was great… I do have some minor nitpicks here and there, but they’re just that. Nitpicks. Had I seen this film in time to include it on my top ten list, I would have. C’est la vie.
I will tell you this though. This is the first of the “Karla” Trilogy from le Carré. Is it too much to ask for them all to make the big screen with Oldman as the lead?