Movie Reviews

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: Spy vs Spy

By Zaki JufriMovies - 08 February 2012 7:00 PM | Updated 13 February 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy:  Spy vs Spy

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The Stars: Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch

The Story: Set in 1973, the British spy thriller is directed by Tomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One In”). The screenplay adaptation is by the writing team of Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan. The Cold War continues to damage international relations. Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), a.k.a. MI6 and code-named the Circus, is striving to keep pace with other countries' espionage efforts and to keep the U.K. secure. Espionage veteran George Smiley (Oldman) is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6's echelons.

The Buzz: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is the long-awaited feature film version of John le Carre's classic bestselling novel. Lead actor Gary Oldman is nominated in the Best Actor category in the 2012 Oscars. The film was also named British Film of the Year and Best Screenplay at the awards at the recent Richard Attenborough UK Regional Film Awards (RAFAs) as well as dominating the BAFTAs with 11 nominations-- Best Film, Outstanding British Film, Adapted Screenplay, Original Music, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, Costume Design and Sound. Tomas Alfredson is nominated for Director and Gary Oldman for Leading Actor. thinks: When we hear the words ‘spy movie’, images of parkour type stunts ala Jason Bourne or intense “Mission: Impossible” styled car chases or even scenes of ultimate James Bond-type excesses are usually conjured up.

The spy movies of today are more created for entertainment—mired in action and fantasy. When it comes to tales of espionage, there is no other period with a wealth of material for filmmakers to mess around with than the Cold War of the 1970s; which bring us to the curiously named “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

“Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy” is the big-screen adaptation of former British spy-turned-spy-novel-author John le Carré’s novel of the same name, and serves as the first chapter in the “Karla Trilogy”.

As the story goes, it’s the early 70s, and British espionage is in chaos. An operation in Hungary has gone wrong and Control (John Hurt), the dying head of intelligence agency The Circus, has been forced out, taking his deputy George Smiley (Oldman) with him.

Cold war tensions with the Soviet Union are at a peak and there are suspicions of a mole operating at the highest levels of The Circus. So Smiley is called back to put together a secret team to uncover which one of the four men at the head table is working with the Soviets (hence the name, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”).

While all these sounds very exciting, the best action sequence here is probably the part when Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) tries to retrieve a file from a library. As mentioned, this being the 70s and it’s the Cold War, there are no snazzy gadgets or car chases—just spies doing what they do best; searching for clues and weeding out their enemies in between heated meetings and discussions. The movie cares more about the characters and how they interact with each other, than it is with Cold War politics. But even then, “Tinker, Tailor” is far from being your typical humdrum drama.

You might be familiar with director Tomas Alfredson’s work for his take on the vampire thriller “Let The Right One In”. He does a great job trimming down le Carre’s labyrinthine plot to just about two hours and keeping you on the edge of your seats. In “Tinker, Tailor,” he applies the very same intriguing mis-en-scene technique he employed previously; masterfully layering story upon story, flashbacks and flashbacks, guiding you through every plot twists and turns.

The result is a riveting chess match where every move every agent makes is vital to the story. This is the kind of intelligent story-telling that’s lacking in many movies today. “Tinker, Tailor” demands every ounce of your attention that every piece of dialogue is of the essence. It’s times like these that having a remote in your palm is very handy.

Alfredson together with the movie’s great ensemble of fine British actors (Colin Firth, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong) take you through the betrayals and backstabbings; hindering or helping Smiley in his quest. Gary Oldman is mesmeric as the enigmatic George Smiley. He plays his part as the quiet and reflective veteran spy down pat. Despite showing a very icy and calm exterior, Oldman’s Smiley displays a breadth of emotions and character traits. His Oscar nomination is very well deserved indeed.

He is surrounded by a bunch of top-class Brit actors, namely TV Sherlock’s Cumberbatch who steals the scenes from Oldman. In a performance that’s on par to Oldman’s, Cumberbatch’s Guillam is the perfect sidekick—an agent that’s outside the circle who’s just as determined to uncover the mole, in spite of his insecurities.

The rest of the blue-chip cast also shine in their respective roles—Colin Firth as the conceited womanizer, Mark Strong as the forgotten spy and Tom Hardy’s rogue agent among others.  

A gripping, slow-burning espionage thriller, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” might not have all the trappings of your typical spy actioner, but its excellent script and great cast tick all the right boxes.