‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'
As hard as it might be for modern moviegoers to imagine, the slow-burning spy thriller “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” doesn't feature any of the now-requisite hard-hitting fight sequences or jump-edited car chases. No one scales a dizzyingly tall skyscraper or dons a perfectly cut tuxedo for a high-stakes card game.
Instead, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (2008's stark and affecting vampire drama “Let the Right One In”) and English husband-and-wife screenwriters Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O'Connor, who earned an Oscar nomination for their adaptation, create a gritty, realistic and faithful film version of John le Carre's seminal 1974 spy novel.
If you want your espionage served with a big, glitzy dose of souped-up Hollywood action, there are about 30 Bond, Bourne and “Mission: Impossible” flicks to fit the bill. “Tinker Tailor” requires viewers to actively listen and watch and actually think with their brains.
The British Intelligence drama boasts impressive turns from a sterling cast of the kingdom's finest thespians, an Oscar-nominated score from Alberto Iglesias and finely detailed period authenticity. Most importantly, it features Gary Oldman, known for his many flamboyant, frenetic performances, in his Academy Award-nominated turn as the quietly crafty and unassumingly still master spy George Smiley, former secret agent le Carre's most famous literary creation.
Set in 1973 during the icy tensions of the Cold War, “Tinker Tailor” opens with a botched mission in Hungary that gets MI6 agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) gunned down and agency leader “Control” (John Hurt) and his loyal lieutenant Smiley forced into retirement. Shortly after Control dies, Smiley is secretly recruited to ferret out a possible mole in the agency, known internally as “The Circus.”
It turns out Control suspected five high-ranking “Circus” performers of passing along top-secret intelligence to the Russians: new MI6 chief Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), code-named “Tinker”; his deputy Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), AKA “Tailor; next-in-command Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), “Soldier”; Hungarian-born agent Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), “Poorman”; and Smiley himself, or “Beggarman.”
With the help of capable but nervy young intelligence officer Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the passionate but possibly tainted testimony of disheveled field agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), Smiley digs for the truth among professional liars and patiently waits for his prey to make a fatal mistake.
Although Alfredson keeps the pace steady and tone quiet, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” has plenty of enigmatic characters, twisty plot points and old-school suspense to keep espionage fans' eyes on the screen and minds on the mystery.
Bonus features: Behind-the-scenes featurette, audio commentary, deleted scenes and interviews with the cast, director and le Carre.
— Brandy McDonnell