Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Directed by: Tomas Alfredson

Starring: Gary iOldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones.

Rating: 15 Running Time: 127 Mins

I have never read the book Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré, or seen the 1979 seven part television drama starring the iconic Alec Guiness. Coming into this movie I was aware that it was set during the cold war, and regarding the flushing out of a double agent, a mole, in the British intelligence services, the sort of thing that should make for an interesting movie.

George Smiley (Oldman), a retired MI6 officer, is brought out of retirement by his old boss and friend Control (Hurt) who belives there is a possible mole in MI6, feeding intelligence to the other side. Along the way, Smiley must piece together information from operatives who are either missing or presumed dead, and wotj with a trusted colleague (Cumberbatch) to use his spycraft against his own side in order to unravel the mystery of the potential 5 possibilities Control has worked it out to be, each of which has been given a codename, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Poorman, and Beggarman. If one of them is a double agent and if he looks deeper, will he like what he finds?

Scriptwriters Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan (whose other works include the upcoming ‘The Debt’ and ‘Three Musketeers’) have kept the setting of John le Carré’s book during the cold war, when some would have perhaps updated it to a more contemporary setting. Fortunately this avoids having to explain the climate of the movie’s setting, as even those who are too young to remember the cold war will be aware of elements from it, and there are never any attempts to force ‘news’ or ‘current events’ with news reel footage as has been done in other similar set movies, rather choosing to focus on the spies themselves rather than what they are spying on/for.

The problem with adapting a novel for a movie is largely the challenge of adapting it and keeping the elements crucial to the story within the constraints of a two hour running time, then there’s the fact that you’re translating from a written media into a largely visual one. Focusing on the espionage aspect of the story, they have kept the movie heavy with detail and plotting, avoiding falling into the current trend and trap of trying to make the movie exciting with forced action sequences (of which there are none in this movie), It would have been easy to try and come up with some action sequences to dumb down the movie.

Thankfully they have stayed away from that.

The movie is filled with flashback moments which initially makes for a non-linear narrative, but by providing the viewer with the flashbacks it helps to give the viewer a sense of not only what was going in the past, but by relation, what was going on in the character’s head at that moment, showing you elements that the characters know and are thinking about without having to use dialogue to explain it. This may not be suitable to all though, some may find it rather hard to follow (as did a group of four who got up and walked out of the screen I saw this in after 30 minutes – their loss), but it’s a refreshing way to be in the character’s head rather than just in the room with them.

The acting powerhouse assembled for this movie is phenomenal, Gary Oldman gives a fantastic performance in the lead as George Smiley, a man who unwillingly returns to investigate those who he considered friends, along the way he is supported by Benedict Cumberbatch as his only confidant and colleague who he can trust inside ‘The Circus’ (MI6), Mark Strong as a former operative, Tom Hardy as a current operative who may have stumbled into the investigation, as well as veteran actors John Hurt. Colin Firth and Toby Jones. Oldman definately deserves to get a nod come Oscar time for best actor, and both of Cumberbatch and Hardy deserve likewise nods for best supporting actor, though it’s hard to say which out of the two of them should win.

Swedish director Tomas Alfredson has made a movie that looks incredible, not just the sets, set dressing, hair styles and clothing, but the way that the movie looks on the screen. The image is grainy, and colours have been given a saturated and faded look. giving an aged feel to it that suits the period and gives it a further air of authenticity. There’s incredible depth to the movie aswell, with long takes of some scenes, some of which have very little going on on the screen, allowing you to take in the environments and observe the characters thinking and is done without every becoming stale or seeming to slow the pace of the movie.

As mentioned, some will not find this to their liking, which is a shame as it’s a fantastic piece of film making, relying on the story and performances rather than the same old boring hollywood action spectacle. Go to see this, pay attention during the movie, and bathe in the performances on the screen, you won’t regret it.


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