Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was first released in the middle of Bondmania, the first real explosion of spy-oriented literature. Despite being able to be cast into the same broad spectrum of fiction, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy bears about as much resemblance to the stories of James Bond as ET does to Skyline. The flashy and handsome bond is replaced by aging Smiley and the missions to prevent global destruction are now a slow and methodical game of cat and mouse between Smiley and a mole in the upper reaches of the circus. Tomas Alfredson’s 2011 adaptation of John le Carré’s novel comes at a similar time to its namesake. Spy movies are huge again, lead this time by Jason Bourne rather than James Bond (ok, James Bond is a close second). Contemporary spy films are more grounded in reality than the ridiculous antics of 1960’s James Bond, but manage to still move at a breakneck pace. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is as refreshing as a film in 2011 as it was when first released as a book in 1974. It is a stylish and intelligent movie with a stellar cast and extremely well crafted plotline.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has perhaps one of the most talent packed casts of any movie released in the past decade. With names like Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch attached to the project, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s cast is packed to the rim with talented actors who come fairly cheap by today’s standard. While the entire cast puts in great performances, with special attention delivered to Firth and Hardy, Oldman really stands out. His performance as the iconic George Smiley is emotionless and gray. He moves through the investigation, never letting his emotions get the better of him or showing his hand to anyone. Oldman is unrecognizable as the actor seen in the Batman movies. His hair is gray, his movement painfully slow, and we can practically hear his joints crackle as he tiptoes around a dark apartment. It is a performance which can be summed up in terms opposite of those which are usually used when praising acting and is both unique and excellent. The entire cast puts their all into the movie, and it certainly comes through in the end.
The plot of the movie is extremely well written and unpredictable. Every character has a purpose within the story and the acting in the movie brings each and every one of these key players to life. Tinker Tailor Solider Spy’s plot operates at a different pace from those of other contemporary spy films. This is not a movie about twists and turns, it is a methodical and careful investigation. The game of cat and mouse between Smiley and the mole is especially interesting, even more so towards the end when the motives and actions of the mole are revealed to us. The central mystery, the identity of the spy, is kept unclear until exactly the right moment. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy never shows you its hand and has you guessing until it decides to show you its secrets. Your suspicions about the identity of the mole will jump from character to character at precisely decided times and when the final revelation comes to pass everything fits together and makes sense. For a film adaptation of a book complex enough to warrant a short series, it is very focused in its direction and incredibly dense.
Tomas Alfredson’s direction is also well above par. His shots, like the plot and central character, are slow and methodical, just as it was in his previous film Let the Right One In. He takes his time and lets the story unfold before us at just the right pace. The shaky-cam shots of contemporary spy films are gone in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alfredson instead deciding on a slower and more calculated directing style. His sense of style is also as apparent in this film as it was in Let the Right One In. The film is cast almost entirely in dark tones and drab colors, the world of the spy is in no means glamorized by the tone he creates with his style. This is gritty, real work, and Alfredson’s direction gets this point across splendidly.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one extreme of the spy movie that we don’t much get anymore. It is a slow and precise film with both an unpredictable and intelligent plot carried by fantastic acting by some soon-to-be big names in the acting world. For some Tinker Tailor Solider Spy may be too slow or restrained, but for those of us out there willing to go at its pace lies an intelligent and intriguing spy movie.