Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Colin Firth
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy isn’t an action packed film, nor is it a particularly ‘exciting’ one. What it is, however, is a methodical, stately production that oozes class and excellence.
Set in the early 1970’s, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a bleak examination of cold war paranoia and a group of men desperately clinging onto power as the world around them leaves them behind. Command (John Hurt), head of British intelligence (referred to as The Circus), believes that one of his immediate subordinates is a mole delivering crucial intelligence to the Russians. After a disastrous attempt at investigating these suspicions results in the apparent death of an agent (Mark Strong), Control and his right hand man George Smiley (Gary Oldman) resign. After Control’s death, new evidence surfaces suggesting that his suspicions may not have been unfounded after all and the retired Smiley begins an investigation into Control’s former suspects – Percy Adeline (Toby Jones), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) and Toby Esterhase (David Dencik).
As Smiley follows his investigations, more and more complications arise as every character seems to be double crossing another and seemingly peripheral characters are given extended flashback sequences. It’s complex stuff and sometimes it can be a little hard to keep track of exactly who did what, when they did it and why.
Despite the mental gymnastics required to keep on top of things, the film is never anything less than a pleasure to watch and is an absolute master class in understatement. Everything about the film is subdued; from the performances to the pacing -even the colour pallet is muted. Every actor of this stunning ensemble shines, not by scene stealing bravado but by subtle movement. Gary Oldman doesn’t have a great deal to do other than sit, look contemplative and ask questions quietly but he does so magnificently putting you squarely in his lonely, broken shoes. Everyone is uniformly excellent with new faces like Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch easily holding their own against the old pros.
Indeed, while the film’s pacing can sometimes plod and the plot at times seem almost impenetrable; the feel of the film is captivating. Stifling offices, acrid apartments and drab suits really sell the underlying tension of the cold war – though not a lot is actually happening, a very real sense of menace and impending doom keeps you on the edge.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film of immense quality and while it can feel a little detached at times, it’s one of the better espionage films in recent years.