Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

by Mark Walker


Director: Tomas Alfredson.
Screenplay: Peter Straughan, Bridget O’Connor.
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Stephen Graham, Konstantin Khabensky, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Simon McBurney, Kathy Burke.

After the success of his Swedish horror film Let the Right One In, director Tomas Alfredson tackles the novel of John le Carre which first aired as a British TV miniseries in 1979 -starring Alec Guinness. It’s a tough project to take on, when all eyes are on you but Alfredson’s abilities are perfectly suited to the material.

After a botched mission, the head of MI6, British Intelligence spymaster, known as Control (John Hurt) is sacked from the agency along with his number-one man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman).

Soon after their sacking, information is revealed that a Soviet mole has infiltrated the Secret service and worked his way up to the highest echelon. Smiley is then approached to take on a new assignment: spy on the spies and find out who the mole could be.

The first thing to grab your attention is the film’s style. It captures 1970s London to the minutest detail and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema deserves every credit for his striking work here.

To compliment the lush imagery is a perfectly pitched score by Alberto Iglesias and within minutes the game, that is espionage, is set. Alfredson is a director that obviously likes to work at a certain pace. That pace may be excruciatingly slow for some people but it can also be highly effective. In this case, it’s the latter.

This film ruminates long and hard on its characters and their subtleties. However, it is so convoluted and dialogue-driven that the slightest lapse in concentration will leave the film incomprehensible.

I don’t profess to have understood it entirely but I kept up to speed enough to be left satisfied with the outcome. My review of this may be posted a little early though, as this is a film that definitely requires at least two sittings.

A couple of criticisms I had was a lack of any real action. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting Jason Bourne to make an appearance but it threatened a few exciting set-pieces and then didn’t deliver. The other was the identity of the double-agent; it became clear earlier than it should have which lessened the impact of the final revelation.

These are small gripes though as the suspense and intrigue were engrossing and more than competently handled by the director and his eclectic cast of quality British actors – I happen to be an admirer of every one of them.

It’s Oldman’s lead role that is the real standout. He’s very reserved and it’s a performance that may disappoint fans of his intense roles like Drexl from True Romance or Stansfield from Leon but he holds a presence that hints of something darker to his character.

At first, it was a performance that I didn’t really see what all the fuss – and Oscar nomination – was about. That was, until the film draws to close and you realise that Oldman has had you captivated for over two hours.

The story itself is difficult to speak of as I’d be entering into spoiler territory, not to mention my review would be in danger of becoming very long-winded. Rest assured though, this is a thoroughly involving and accomplished mystery.

An enthralling and masterfully constructed spy thriller that is handled with such a deftness of skill that it doesn’t allow you to switch off for a second.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is out now on DVD.


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