Movie Review – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

We as a movie going audience have been lied to for a long time when it comes to the world of spy/espionage movies.  How I wish that the spy  life is all about car chases, exotic locations for shoot-outs and fornicating with all the villains mistresses.  If that were the case, I wouldn’t be writing about movies.  Yes, watching James Bond and Jason Bourne shoot their way through rogue agents and become a one man command center is exciting as hell, but that is not the sort of tact that is needed to conduct international espionage.  So instead of martini’s, expensive suits and fast cars, we trade all that in for the Cold War era, trench coats and incredible acting talent in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

The film follows the quest of a former member of “The Circus”, MI6′s highest, secretive agency, by the name of George Smiley (Gary Oldman).  After being forced out of the service, along with his collegue known as “Control” played by John Hurt, Smiley is brought back at the behest of the agency to discover who the possible mole that might have infiltrated “The Circus”.  After a botched meeting and subsequent grab, agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), the current inner circle of The Circus is brought under the watchful eye of Smiley and Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) in order to sniff out the mole who is leaking information to the Russians.  Along with the help of field agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), who has information that might be crucial to the efforts to bring down the the turned agent.

Director Tomas Alfredson is best known for his Swedish, melodramatic horror film Let The Right One In, a moodish vampire film that was the counterbalance to the Twilight mania that was running rampant.  In his role as director of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, he has crafted a very tightly knit story or lies, deceit, espionage and double talk.  He has stripped down the essence of what we assume spy films are like and substituted in a more calculated and dialogue heavy film.  Gone are the glitzy locations and femme fatales, instead we get a rather muted color palette, a slow burn of tension and a lot of technical, spy speak.  This is a film that builds towards a timid ending, one that isn’t shocking or filled with gasps, but an ending that ties it all together, one that fits within the world of espionage.

Within the foggy gray atmosphere of Cold War era espionage, lies the soul of the film through Gary Oldman.  A methodical and impressive acting job, he made the disconnected and weary former spy into a stoic investigator.  His careful trudge through the murky waters of British secrecy is almost text book in the way he is able to dig and use information from informants and other members of the society.  After seeing this film, I would put his role as Smiley in probably the top five Gary Oldman roles.  Smiley though, isn’t alone in all his work to uncover the truth of the information leaks, he is helped by fellow agent Peter Guillam played by Benedict Cumberbatch , which is the most British sounding name I have ever heard of.  Cumberbatch might be familiar to some viewers with they are avid watchers of BBC programming as the new Sherlock Holmes.  He brings the young, impressionable eye to the British agency, aiding in Smiley’s crusade.  He is representative of the new breed of agents, ones that were born into the Cold War, rather than living through it all.  This makes him an outcast in the eyes of the inner circle, but also humanizes him as he watches what he could become.

Now the film isn’t just anchored by those two actors, as magnificent as they are.  This is one of the best British ensemble films I have seen.  The Circus is made up some incredible male actors such as Toby Jones (The Mist, Captain America) as Percy Alleline, Colin Firth (The Kings Speech) as Bill Haydon and Ciaran Hinds (The Debt, There Will Be Blood) as Roy Bland.  The tight lipped group are the suspects of the film, with each actor bringing a slight nuance and subtlety to their roles.  Tom Hardy is Ricki Tarr, a field agent that brings to light the possibility of a mole within the agency, is intense, but restrained in the pigeonholed situation he is placed in.  John Hurt also takes his role as the former head of The Circus as a man named Control, but he is there for a few parts in the film although a joy to watch.  Just try and find a better male cast than what is assembled here in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

With all these actors, the story telling in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of confusion and deceit.  Much like the spy game, the story line is mixed with flashbacks, retelling of events, and a fractured timeline, mixing both past and present events into the storyline.  This is bound to cause some confusion on the part of the viewer and couple that with the technical spy speak and the fact that you don’t know who to trust, means the onus is on the viewer to pay close attention.  Side conversations, throwaway phone calls and every syllable that is uttered has some form of meaning to the overall story, but that is what makes this an exciting movie.  It challenges us to be an attentive audience, questioning which of the men is the mole in the agency.  With only a 2 hour run time, there is a lot compressed into the film and the directing and choppy story timeline hurts it for some first time viewers.  If you are wanting a fleshed out story, check out the 1979 BBC series of the same name or read the John Le Carre 1974 novel.

Instead of a vibrant spy life, this is a drab looking film.  Bathed in the dull glow of browns, greys and more greys, this is a murky film to behold.  I kind of enjoyed the color choice and the setting of the foggy, 70s London backdrop for this espionage tale.  The grey tones are more of a highlight to the nature of the spy business.  There is the area between truth and lies, where each of the members of the British MI-6 have to deal with on a daily basis.  It’s a set a perfect tone for the film, as the height of the Cold War didn’t allow for sunshine and rainbows.  Director Tomas Alfredson really brings a unique eye to the film, sucking out the warmth of London to substitute it for a more somber setting.

I am a fan of realistic spy films.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy the escapism that Bond and Bourne films offer, but when dealing with the delicate nature of deception, it requires a surgical blade rather than a broadsword.  It’s a bureaucratic world that we live in and there are rules to follow, but also rules that are bent depending on how well one can lie and shift the truth.The film is put through the paces with a condensed run time and it hurts the viewing the pleasure when the story is also cut, moved and presented in such a manner that you might get confused.  But if you are an attentive viewer, you will get a lot out of the film.  The strengths lie in the acting, which is a veritable bevy of British gravitas that might just make you have a British accent when all is said and done.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film that changes our expectations of what spy movies are like.  Throw in the fact that there is an air of elegance from the Brits that make even arguments about turn coats and budget spending seem so much more sophisticated.  That’s what this movie is about, sophistication.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is sophisticated where your Bond films are more brutish and blunt.  This sets it apart from all other espionage movies.

Rating:4/5

(all images via)

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About Nick
I am just another blogger putting his thoughts into a website. My love is movies so most of my musings will be movie related. I work as an online marketer for an advertising company and when I am not earning a paycheck, I moonlight as a vigilante film blogger.

6 Responses to Movie Review – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

  1. Frank Bishop says:

    I am curious, Gary Oldman and all.

    Then again…. Tip Toes…. God… I still can’t get it out of my head…

    • Nick says:

      shit another comment overlooked. New Years resolution going to shit here. Frank, I will watch anything Gary Oldman is in, anything. Put that man in a Twilight film and I will be lined up along with the other 12 year olds and 40-something moms for this movie.

      His role in this film is just what it needed. All that British gravitas and I almost adopted a British accent and start wearing more trench coats and spreading butter over toast in a manner of fact way.

  2. Haha, lovely review. While I do agree with you that it was more realistic and I did enjoy the way some of the scenes were shot, the whole thing was just a little too all over the place for me. In my opinion, some things that work in a text or in a TV series where there’s a little more wiggle room, I think too much skipping around in a movie where you’ve only got 2-3 hours to tell a story makes my head spin.

    I will say this though, objectively, I think if I didn’t see the movie before, after reading your review I think I would have been pretty inclined to see it. Great writing. :)

    • Nick says:

      Thank you for the compliment on the review. I do hope that you give it another view in the future, but again my biased review and prepping for the film might have clouded the review itself. But I really did love the movie and found your review to be an excellent contrast to those that love it.

      Look forward to more of your reviews and comments. Cheers!

  3. Pingback: Movie of the Day – Lust, Caution « Another Plot Device

  4. Pingback: Movie of the Day – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy « Another Plot Device

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