Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
  • Time: 127 min
  • Genre: Drama | Mystery | Thriller
  • Director: Tomas Alfredson
  • Cast: Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch


In the early 1970s during the Cold War, the head of British Intelligence, Control, resigns after an operation in Budapest, Hungary goes badly wrong. It transpires that Control believed one of four senior figures in the service was in fact a Russian agent – a mole – and the Hungary operation was an attempt to identify which of them it was. Smiley had been forced into retirement by the departure of Control, but is asked by a senior government figure to investigate a story told to him by a rogue agent, Ricky Tarr, that there was a mole. Smiley considers that the failure of the Hungary operation and the continuing success of Operation Witchcraft (an apparent source of significant Soviet intelligence) confirms this, and takes up the task of finding him.

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  • One of the most accomplished films of the year, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a mystery-thriller adapted from the novel of the same title by acclaimed author John le Carre. Carre’s novels such as “The Constant Gardener”, and “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” have previously been made into feature films that have been well-received critically.

    Thus, it is not a surprise that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has found itself in the radar of the Academy, being rewarded with three Oscar nominations including Best Leading Actor for Gary Oldman.

    This is Oldman’s film. And it is not very often anyone can say that. Perhaps the most underrated and versatile actor working in Hollywood today, Oldman has finally received his dues as he earns himself an Oscar nomination that he might just win if sympathy votes are to be the name of the game this year.

    He plays George Smiley, who is forced out of semi-retirement to unlock the mystery of a mole within M16’s highest echelon, “The Circus”. Set in the time of the Cold War, the situation is made especially bleak as espionage could turn the tables on any country’s national security when secrets leak out.

    Oldman gives a performance that aptly captures a wearisome man bogged down by the complex intricacies, the lying games, and the webs of deceit that are part of the job. His role is not showy, and like George Clooney in The Descendants (2011), he gives a subtle yet effective display that draws us in slowly into the cold world of spies and moles.

    The premise is simple, but the plot isn’t; the convoluted nature of the film’s narrative may lose some viewers. It also doesn’t help that director Tomas Alfredson chooses to adopt a slow, non-linear trajectory that may bore viewers looking for thrills.

    Those patient enough will be greatly rewarded as Alfredson cranks up the suspense in several key moments, underscored by an excellent, low-key score by Alberto Iglesias, who often collaborates with Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar (All About My Mother, 1999; Talk to Her, 2002).

    With a strong supporting cast including Colin Firth, John Hurt, and Tom Hardy, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not so much about the secretive world of spy affairs, but the people who inhabit it. Despite being in the same team with a collective vision, distrust and personal vendettas occur when unseen forces pull these people to each polar end as they struggle to stay loyal to the cause.

    For film enthusiasts, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a joy to watch as Alfredson and Swiss cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema carries Carre’s bleak and brooding novel into the film’s visual style.

    Alfredson, who shot into international reckoning with the superb, coming-of-age vampire horror-drama, Let the Right One In (2008), is a master of mise-en-scene. Every shot is framed and composed with skill as the camera tracks or pans slowly to reveal more that is in the shot. He expertly frames characters within other frames such as windows and doors, giving an uneasy sense of distance towards these characters.

    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of the year’s best films. While the first hour may feel less engaging than expected, it will eventually, and if I may add, inevitably pull you into the story of the characters. After all, spies are often unsure about what they are dealing with until they are forced into the deep end by circumstances beyond their means of control.

    Alfredson baits you slowly, and as you stick your big toe into the cold, murky waters, he sucks you in not like a powerful whirlwind, but like an ultra-slow quicksand. I am quite simply shocked that the film has been left out of the Best Picture race.

    Verdict: Tomas Alfredson is such a skilled filmmaker that he draws you into the film’s convoluted plot with just the camera.

    GRADE: A- (8.5/10)

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