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Written by: Sam Fragoso on January 18, 2012

January 18, 2012 | 20 comments | Featured, Old Format

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy categorically fits into the spy genre, but not necessarily. By today’s standards, spy thrillers contain a run-and-gun mentality, driven by suave personas, flashy cars, exotic women and exhilarating action sequences.

However, Thomas Alfredson (director of the 2008 cult hit Let the Right One In) takes a more grounded and intellectual approach with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The film may not be as grandiose and exciting as say Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, but the ultimate cinematic reward is much greater.

With the Cold War lingering over England in the 1970s, the film’s dramatic and serious tone is set from the opening scene. George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is our protagonist. At one time he was near the top of the Circus (a nickname for the British intelligence service). But after a failed operation in Budapest — which is the captivating opening scene — Smiley is forced into a bleak retirement.

Later, Smiley is called up by the British government to investigate the Circus for a mole. Apparently a spy high up in the organization has been there for years, leaking intelligence and information to the Soviet Union.

The whole “mole” theory derives from a young, troubled, and recently gone rogue agent by the name of Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy). Granted the information – at first – seems a bit suspicious, Smiley embarks on a thorough investigation in which he narrows the trader down to four suspects:

Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), and Bill Haydon (Colin Firth). All four men are dually capable of these alleged wrong doings and all appear to be guilty.

Gary Oldman delivers a calm, yet evocative performance as George Smiley in "Tinker Tailor Solider Spy"

If the film runs into some problems, it would be with our four central suspects. They all are featured in brief, separate subplots that don’t equate to much. Shadings of other stories often cloud over Bridget O’Connor’s screenplay and make it frustrating to follow the film’s train of thought.

Though, one could argue that Tinker Tailor Solider Spy’s greatest feat is the perplexing plot, lacking lucid plot points and orthodox thematic direction.

While the film is often impenetrable (in terms of emotion), it’s also brilliantly subtle, expertly acted, and thoughtfully scored by Alberto Iglesias.

There is no sentiment to be had here. Nor should there be. The Cold War was a bleak time – full of regret and anguish. It’s as if Smiley’s face resembles the era – tired and full of heartache, yet focused and concerned. Tinker Tailor Solider Spy has its issues, but Alfredson has crafted a reserved, nuanced, and cinematically suspenseful thriller that encapsulates the true dubious animal of the Circus.

Rating: ★★★☆

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Writer: Peter Straughan, Bridget O’Connor

Runtime: 127 minutes

Genre: thriller

Trailer Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy


There are 20 comments for this post.

  1. Dan O. on January 18, 2012 7:21 am

    With so much information being thrown at us, I wish that there was much more time for all of it to just sink in but I liked the fact that the film made you pay attention to every little detail as this story just kept building and building. Everybody here in this cast is great too, especially Oldman who perfectly brings this flick together. Good review Sam.

  2. Duke on January 18, 2012 7:46 am

    There was bit too much information, which probably directed contributes to the fact that the film derived from a miniseries (and that miniseries, a book).

  3. Alex Withrow on January 18, 2012 8:01 am

    Nice review, you liked it a tad more than I did but no matter. Isn’t it odd that Gary Oldman probably won’t even be nominated for the Oscar?

  4. Duke on January 18, 2012 10:04 am

    It’s ridiculous. Oldman deserves – at the very least – to be nominated.

  5. Andrew Buckle on January 18, 2012 1:11 pm

    Nice review mate. I agree that we aren’t given much time to learn about our four central suspects, but trying to balance about eight different characters, and shifting timelines as precisely as it did, I thought the screenplay, and the editing team did a remarkable job. The period details were meticulous, the performances superb (Oldman, Hardy, Strong and Cumberbatch the picks), and great pickup about the score. Alberto Iglesias has scored two of the year’s best films – this and The Skin I Live In. I can’t wait to check this one out again.

  6. Duke on January 18, 2012 3:30 pm

    Yes, the film is extremely meticulous and a well calculated endeavor. It does a great job bouncing from time frame to time frame.

  7. Matt S. on January 18, 2012 10:46 pm

    I stil have to see this one, but the cast is incredible. Looking forward to it when I do.

    Good review, Sam.

  8. Duke on January 19, 2012 12:24 am

    Thank you Matt. Please do see it and be sure to let me know what you think.

    The film needs more support.

  9. Scott Lawlor on January 19, 2012 2:40 am

    I have just been sent a Blu-Ray check disk of this one. I am more looking forward to the extras than i am the actual film!!

    Sad huh?

  10. Duke on January 19, 2012 3:07 am

    And why is that?

  11. Max on January 19, 2012 11:13 am

    I was almost lost in this movie and that’s the biggest thing it has going against it. It assumes you’ve seen one adaptation of it before. I’d like to see a sequel continuing Smiley’s story, but I guess I’ll just search out the books by John Le Carre’. Thanks Duke.

  12. Duke on January 19, 2012 12:01 pm

    I don’t believe it makes that assumption at all.

    Thanks for stopping by. Appreciate newer readers.

  13. Ruth on January 20, 2012 5:04 am

    Literally just watched Let The Right One In. Alfredson’s direction in that one is certainly impressive. Can’t wait to see TTSS, not least because on paper it’s a dream cast. Great review as usual :)

  14. Duke on January 20, 2012 9:25 am

    Thanks Ruth.

    This is a rare case where the film on paper actually lives up to its promises.

  15. Eric on January 20, 2012 10:28 am

    Great review, Sam. I haven’t had the chance to check this one out yet, but it sounds like a movie I would really enjoy. Glad to hear you liked it.

  16. Blogging Community Highlights: 1/14 to 1/20 | The Warning Sign on January 20, 2012 11:24 am

    [...] from Duke & The Movies shared his thoughts on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a movie I am really looking forward to [...]

  17. Duke on January 20, 2012 3:15 pm

    Hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

    Thanks for reading Eric (and the pingback).

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