Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the anti-Hollywood spy film. There are no buxom babes hiding pistols in their thongs. No high tech gadgets. No comical villains with plans of world domination. The weapons of this cloak ‘n dagger world are words, information. Secrets. The ultimate crime committed against your espionage brothers in arms is betrayal.
Tomas Alfredson, who brought such a dreary air to vampire flick Let the Right One In, clouds this adaptation of John Le Carre’s Cold War novel in a similar gloom. “Cold” being the operative word, as the entire film looks frigid as icy steel, clean and antiseptic. It stands in stark contrast to the murky nature of the dirty business being done at the very top of British intelligence, affectionately and accurately referred to as “The Circus”. George Smiley(Gary Oldman) is the calm center in the midst of the paranoia storm, an agent forced into retirement after a botched mission undoes him and Control(John Hurt), once the leader of The Circus’ inner circle. However, Smiley is the only man who can be trusted when it’s revealed that a Russian mole has infiltrated their ranks.
There’s nothing flashy about what follows, as the entire film is an exercise in restraint. Smiley and what few loyal allies he can conjure(including a game Benedict Cumberbatch and an excellent Tom Hardy) do a lot of questioning of suspects, interviewing witnesses, and digging through files to find the culprit. Exciting? Not really, until you figure out that if the mole isn’t uncovered, the ramifications will have a global impact.Those unsatisfied with the lack of clue-finding and discovery of the latest Sherlock Holmes film may want to turn here to see how deductive reasoning actually looks.
Trimming down Le Carre’s dense novel couldn’t have been an easy task, and at times you can see where some serious cutting had to have taken place. Not all of the suspects are given the amount of scrutiny they deserve, and some characters who are crucial in the novel are momentary blips. It’s unfortunate there wasn’t a way to expand it into a multi-part series like the awesome Alec Guinness adaptation from 1979.
With a cast that includes some of the heaviest hitters in British cinema, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, and Ciaran Hinds, the acting is beyond reproach. Most are crediting Gary Oldman for his subtle, introverted performance because Smiley is such a far cry from some of his wildest characters. But Oldman has been nothing if not an emotional chameleon, and when called up to play a man like Smiley who has turned his emotions inward, he’s more than capable.
The glacial pace and the lack of sizzle is going to be a turn off to many. But those who commit will find an intelligent, intricate espionage thriller.