[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B0078K48NK][/pullquote] Set in 1973 during the height of the Cold War, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy revolves around British intelligence officer George Smiley (Gary Oldman) and his investigation to discover a mole working for the KGB. After the death of Jim Prideux (Mark Strong) in Budapest, Smiley is tipped off by Control (John Hurt) and agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) that there is a double-agent working in ‘the circus.’ Four men, each with a codename, are the primary suspects. Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) is ‘tinker,’ Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) is ‘tailor,’ Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) is ‘sailor’ and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) is ‘poor man.’
Director Tomas Alfredson brings his experience from the bleak Scandinavian surroundings of Let the Right One In and transposes it into 1970s London. Everything, from the offices to the characters, has an imposing and threatening lack of life and colour. He has created a world full of misfits, and the drained colours and dark shadows help him create tension. It’s quite a feat and helps give Tinker, Tailor a defined world in which the action takes place.
Those expecting a spy thriller with chases and gun fights will be disappointed with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. This is a narrative about characters and their inherent weakness. The best scenes involve two of the incredible cast sitting opposite each other talking, with each line of dialogue rippling with subtext and double-dealing. That’s not to say that there is no action, with Strong’s death in Budapest and the quietly fantastic Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) attempting to steal secret documents from the heart of ‘the circus.’ It is a testament to the source material and the actors that you cannot work out who the mole is until the big reveal at the end.
This, sadly, is the moment where the film doesn’t quite deliver. It’s not that the reveal is badly executed. It’s more that, for a film that centres around this more than anything, it feels like there is not enough fanfare. But then, in keeping with its very cool premise, anything else might have seemed out of place. Still, it does leave you with a sense of a missed opportunity.
The cast is magnificent and includes almost every recognisable, top-quality British actor of the moment, with Firth, Hardy, Cumberbatch and Strong all flexing their acting muscles. But it is Smiley’s story, and Oldman is excellent. It’s a far cry from the over-the-top, scenery-chewing performances in previous films and he conveys so much with a mere flick of the head, or movement in his mouth.
A top notch cast, a director on the rise and source material that leaps off the screen from the beginning, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one of the most ambitious and intriguing films of 2011.