One of the most intelligent spy actioners ever made, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is based off of the novel of the same name by British espionage writer John Le Carre… and when I say this is an ‘intelligent’ film, I mean that at least part of the audience will get too lost or bored half way through to be either capable of or interested in finishing the viewing. For those that do stick it out, this pseudo-farce and the intricate, full-circle Cold War parable of betrayal and distrust it weaves is not to be missed.
Gary Oldman leads an all-star cast as Smiley, a (forcibly) retired MI6 agent who is called back to ‘the Circus’ by the powers that be to quietly investigate rumors of a Russian mole who has allegedly infiltrated the upper-most ranks of the agency. As it becomes apparent that a conspiracy for power and plenty of pawn work are also at play, the lines of loyalty quickly become faulty at best, and Smiley is forced to begin looking at many of his most trusted former co-workers and their motivations with a newly suspicious eye. John Hurt, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong (to name just a few of the many established and newly stellar players in this one) support Oldman as a variety of characters that are dually diabolical and genius in each of their own private schemes.
Directed by Tomas Alfredson (of 2008’s Swedish Let the Right One In fame), this movie is a difficult one to swallow in the sense that the plot is so expertly and tightly constructed that merely one missed line or conversation could potentially leave those watching bewildered for the rest of the film. Indeed, it’s not that the story is purposely confusing, but merely that is so well put together that anyone without at least a basic understanding of the ‘spy movie’ genre—particularly regarding the ins and outs of the 1970s and the extremely tense international situation of the period—will be hard pressed to get much out of the experience.
That said the technical details of Tinker are nearly flawless, the biggest highlights being a lot of soft camera work complimented by even softer dialogue that, again, collectively reward viewers for paying attention. The tight cinematography and minimal score help re-create a believable world where nationalism and ‘doing one’s duty for queen and crown’ outweigh literally everything else. What we are left with, then, is an excellent motion picture whose brooding fictional presentation of an otherwise very real historical power struggle is played out smartly and succinctly. Wear your thinking caps to this one folks, and be prepared to play the sleuth right alongside Smiley right up until the very end.
KFP Rating: 4 out of 5 stars