Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of those films that comes along every few years and makes you question the majority of films you watch.
To sit through two hours of this highly detailed, intelligent and rewarding thriller only serves to highlight the dumbing down of 95% of the films out there. You won’t find any simple exposition monologues to get you through the narrative, but if you are watching carefully, you’ll find it’s not nearly as complicated as people have made out. It simply asks you to pay attention, which is a refreshing change from Ten-Things-That-Will-Make-You-Lose-A-Guy- If-He’s-Not-That- In-To-You.
You won’t get a Bourne car chase or any romantic trysts (though some may be implied) but you’ll get a leather briefcase full of intense drama and the complicated machinations of a host of fascinating characters, which leads you inexorably to an ending you might know is coming, but will keep you on the edge of your seat regardless. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s without doubt the best le Carre adaptation to date and in terms of directorial skill, Tomas Alfredson has even surpassed his incredible work on Let The Right One In.
Tinker is the story of 1970’s spymasters- all paranoid, all uncertain; all convinced there is a mole within their tight-knit group of Oxbridge educated paunches. John Hurt, who plays Control, the head of this group of spies, is convinced there is a mole in his ranks, and so sets in motion a series of events that lead to increased paranoia, double crossing, doubt, violence, and, ultimately, revelation. And while this is an ensemble cast, it’s success rests on the shoulders of our national treasure, Gary Oldman, who plays George Smiley, Control’s right hand man. It is his quiet intelligence which draws you in to the film. With a movement of his eyes or a touch of his glasses, he suggests so much that he almost needn’t talk at all. But when he does, you know it will be authoritative and insightful and will spur the plot forward. Smiley, with his right hand man, Guillam (an excellent Benedict Cumberbatch) sets out to get to the bottom of the rumours and determine if there really is a mole in ‘The Circus.’
Tomas Alfredson was the perfect choice of director for this film. His cool and fluid camera work fits perfectly with the gritty, beige 1970’s look, with delicate use of close up, intelligent cut-aways and some genius touches that keep some important figures faceless and enigmatic as the film progresses. One speech to camera by Oldman is Oscar worthy, as he recounts his meeting with his nemesis, Karla, (his Russian counterpart) by re-enacting the conversation as though Karla were seated opposite him. It’s an acting masterclass. But it’s a performance you only realise is genius once the film has finished – there are no Christian Bale histrionics scenery chewing here. This is an actor at the very top of his game. The cast of supporting spies is uniformly excellent, each bringing their own shifting eyes and hidden agendas to the roles (Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, Ciaran Hinds). But Oldman still steals the show. His portrayal of a man beleaguered, tired and lonely, yet with a razor sharp intellect and gentle demeanour is one of the year’s best. It is impossible to tear your eyes from him when he is on screen, as you find yourself looking for a flick of the eyebrow or a twitch that might give away what he is thinking.
It’s riveting, it’s thrilling, its hypnotic. It’s brilliant. You might not get a car chase; you’ll find much of the action comes from a group of middle aged men talking to each other, but your adrenaline levels will be high as any blockbuster.