A real-life spy isn’t a guns-blazing ladies man that drinks Martinis and drives fast cars; a real spy is someone who’s transparent, killing with soul-devouring intelligence over a bullet, swallowing their emotions and calmly walking away. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a more authentic look into the spy-game than the average Hollywood spy-movie. Tomas Alfredson, director of Let the Right One In, directs his first American film, and does so with crisp precision. The film follows several characters of British Intelligence, as George Smiley, played by the one and only Gary Oldman, tries to find out who the mole is among them.
The film is painted in a cold brown and gray, setting just the right mood of authentic espionage in 1970s London. Alfredson sets the scenes just right, as we never know who to trust in the film, trying to figure out who the Soviet double agent is at the top of the British secret service along with Smiley. The script is complex, as the agents talk in code at times, and certain actions they take have initially blurry purposes, but Aflredson puts it together well enough that the audience doesn’t get chaotically lost. The tensions slowly rises, as this slow-burn film rolls along, and we’re given enough background of the agents, especially Smiley and Ricky Tarr, that we’re invested into their position.
Gary Oldman playing George Smiley, the mild-mannered British Spy agent that looks harmless, but has the ability to break anyone down with his calm, cool demeanor and intricate words. The Oldman we all know and love usually chews the scenery, but this time he kills you with silence by being a ghost in the room, observing and scrutinizing every bit of the situation until he finds his ammo. Oldman speaks every word like they’re his last, with imposing gloom, but he isn’t completely cold-hearted, as we see through his mannerisms that he’s bothered by the abrupt departure of his wife. All in all, this is one of Oldman’s finest performances, as he leads a superb British cast, and manages to standout amongst them all, even while playing a role that calls for subtlety.
The rest of the cast is the cream of the crop of British actors, and they all give fantastic performances, from John Hurt to Toby Jones, Mark Strong, and Colin Firth. One the more notable performances comes from Tom Hardy, playing low-level spy Ricky Tarr, who finds the essential information that there is a double agent in British Intelligence, and is trying to clear his name for a wrongful accusation of murder. Hardy plays Tarr with a desperateness that is natural and a guilt that he wants to diminish by doing the right thing, whatever that may be. Mark Strong also puts in a great performance, as Jim Prideaux, an agent that has been repatriated after a mission gone wrong; the audience feels the isolation of the spy job through where he ends up.
In a film where trickery and deceit is the name of the game, the dark, cold occupation of a true spy is revealed to be the loneliest job in the world where the purpose is, at most times, ambiguous. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy turns the screw in your mind tighter and tighter, until the film suffocates your logic and what you think is the truth, giving you an authentic feeling of being in the field of espionage.
This is definitely a film for an older or more mature crowd, because it expects you to follow along and will not hold your hand. You either keep up with it or you’re left in the dust. The story is also complex enough to repel any viewers that loathe non-linear stories.
We get a feel for the background of some of the characters, especially Smiley, but some may think there could have been a little more to give us an even stronger connection to the characters.
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