Spies have had it bad as of late. If they aren’t the hollow centers of this week’s generic action movie, they’re one half of an on-screen couple in a shallow quadrant-hitting action comedy. James Bond may be the only redeeming representative left from the shadowy profession, and even he can err on the side of dumb on a bad day.
Just when it seems like the glory days of shadowy figures in trench coats, listening in on tapped phone conversations are long gone, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” comes along. It’s a slow, nuanced and complicated film that most people wouldn’t classify as a thriller, but don’t let that fool you. Gary Oldman and his legion of brilliant supporting British actors, along with the Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, have crafted a brilliant, suspense-filled tale worthy of your money and attention.
Here are five reasons to check out “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”
Based on the classic book by spymaster John le Carré, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” weaves a complex hunt for a Soviet mole in British Intelligence, or “The Circus,” as it’s called in the film. Gary Oldman plays le Carré’s most iconic character, George Smiley, who is tasked with discovering which of the Circus’ top four men has been leaking intel to the Communists and sabotaging British operations. It may sound like standard espionage fare, but le Carré fills out the boilerplate spy plot with textured and sad characters that put the legend of James Bond super-spy to bed.
When was the last time you felt genuinely confused during a movie? Usually when some uncertainty about the story, its characters and their motivations arises, people will scream “bad film making.” It’s a mistake too regularly made, but in the right hands, in this case those of Alfredson and the screenwriters Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O’Connor, confusion is a storytelling element. They use it purposely to paint a more vivid, lifelike landscape. There is a rather clear, straightforward story here, but just like Smiley, it takes concentration and time to sort the red herrings from the answers.
All of this unravels in a time that’s been mostly left behind by the genre. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” takes place at the height of the Cold War, and the locale becomes so much more than just another detail of the film. Production designer Maria Djurkovic deserves an Academy Award for the beautiful, detailed and cold world she built for the spies of British Intelligence. It may seem like a minor contribution to praise, but the look of this film is a character unto itself, adding to the suspense and overall effect of the film.
Known for his over-the-top villains and more recently, kindly wizards and police commissioners, Gary Oldman turns in a staggeringly understated performance as George Smiley. He is as effective as ever, but uses an entirely different set of tools to get his character across. This is the kind of performance that should earn an Oscar, but won’t because its successes so seamlessly blend with the quiet of the role and the character.
There is not a weak link in the bunch: Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds. This is British acting royalty, and each one of them turns in a controlled, menacing performance that will keep the audience on edge and questioning throughout the entire film. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” features one of the best performances by an ensemble of this and any year. The acting meets the general quality of the filmmaking here, and the result is one of the year’s best films.
Are you planning to see “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” this weekend? Let us know in the comments section and on Twitter!