The world of espionage, spies, secrets, and traitors isn’t necessarily what the James Bond movies make it out to be, quite the contrary actually. The car chases, gunfights, sexy sidekicks, and dry martinis aren’t the job. Instead, the world of a spy consists of endless amounts of research, chain smoking, and a lot of talking. The conversations, though, can be as heated, if not even more so, than your run-in-the-mill gun battle.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which is based on the novel of the same name by John Le Carre, follows retired agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman), who must come back to work to find a Soviet spy that is hidden in MI6, nicknamed the Circus. The man in charge, Control (John Hurt), is convinced that a mole is hidden within the Circus after he does some intensive research and studying with information that he’s been given from a reliable source.
The possibilities, according to Control, are “Tinker” who is Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), “Tailor” who is Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), “Soldier” who is Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), “Poor Man” who is Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), and “Beggar Man” who is Smiley himself. The beginning of the film reveals that there’s a Hungarian general who knows the identity of the mole. Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) is sent to retrieve the information, but the mission goes bad, alerting the Soviets of MI6’s suspicion.
This leads Smiley to be forced into retirement by Control, who soon after passes away. Smiley is then brought back and given some very valuable information by a man named Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), a rogue agent who travels around the world searching for information that may benefit the MI6 during the Cold War. Smiley listens to his story, and considering the failed Hungarian mission, as well as a successful Soviet operation named Operation Witchcraft, he pursues it further, enlisting the help of fellow agent and apprentice, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a beautiful, intense, and sometimes extremely confusing spy film that trades in the usual action for something much more effective; edge-of-your-seat dialogue. The constant interaction between the characters keep things more than exciting, and the sometimes puzzling narrative is both saved and clarified by the use of conversation that literally had my heart racing. Gary Oldman’s flawless performance as George Smiley is a cinematic revelation. His calm and collected manner is sometimes eerie considering the situation, and the one time that he does raise his voice, it’s almost enough to frighten the viewer, especially considering the context.
Tom Hardy and Colin Firth are also absolutely amazing as spies who know things that everyone else wants to, but Mark Strong is surprisingly strong in his rather short but extremely necessary role. Personally, I’m a huge fan of his. I think he’s able to adapt to his environment extremely well, with enough diversity to successfully play both a bad guy and a good guy, sometimes in the same movie. It’s Tom Hardy though, that has probably the most screen time in the entire film besides Oldman, which is surprising considering how little he is shown in the trailer, and how far down he is in the opening credits. I’m not here to complain though, after his performances in Inception, Warrior and RockNRolla, he’s most definitely solidified himself a spot in being one of the best young actors in Hollywood today.
The direction by Tomas Alfredson is gorgeously mundane, and I mean that in the absolute best way possible. He recreates the 70s film style so well here that I felt as if I was doing a double feature with Marathon Man. You might recognize his name as being the director of the equally as fantastic vampire love story, Let The Right One In. Alfredson seems to have a knack for creating films with little action that are almost as exciting as a Transformers movie.
The film also plays as a retrospective, taking snippets of certain scenes and placing them in other scenes, which then leads them to go back to that original scene, but instead it moves forward a little bit. This allows the film to literally be a puzzle, with pieces being filled in left and right until the finale where everything is in place and the universal “aha!” moment is reached. Instead of me trying to explain it, think of it as an episode of How I Met Your Mother, how they flip back and forth between the present and other important times that relate to the story being told. You all know what I’m talking about, let’s just move on.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is brutally violent when it needs to be, dryly funny at times, but it’s also a fantastically plotted film that requires quite a bit of attention from the viewer. I’ll be honest, this and Warrior were the only two films of the year where I didn’t look at my watch once to see how much time there was left. For a two hour film consisting mostly of dialogue, that’s pretty damn good if you ask me.