It is rare for a film to reach its true potential. The director must have a steady hand and vision, the writers must have insight and style, and the actors must have poise and subtlety. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one such film, encapsulating these traits and presenting them at the height of their capability.
Based on John le Carre’s seminal spy novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy follows George Smiley (Gary Oldman) as he is called out of retirement to find an alleged mole within the British Secret Service. The film opens with agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) being sent to gain information from the Hungarians. However, the mission is compromised, and Prideaux is shot in the back. This results in the forced retirement of the head of British Intelligence Control (John Hurt) and his right-hand man, Smiley. When Smiley is brought back to find the mole, he enlists the help of Prideaux, who has been investigating the same mole privately. He narrows down the suspects to four, which he codenames “tinker”, “tailor”, “soldier”, and “spy”. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that this is no simple cat-and-mouse thriller but a subtle, quiet, and complex espionage film.
The plot is supported by an all-star British cast that includes Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, and the up-and-coming Tom Hardy, but at the centre of the narrative is yet another Oscar-worthy performance by Gary Oldman. Swapping the swat jacket of Commissioner Gordon for the fine 1970s suit of George Smiley, Oldman expertly provides the narrative with a point of focus—a pair of glasses, so to speak, through which the viewer may observe the mystery and secrecy of the characters. The paranoia of Smiley eventually translates to the audience as the story unravels.
At the helm is Swedish director Tom Alfredson, best known for what is seen as one of the best films of the last decade, the vampire drama Let the Right One In. In his first film in English, Alfredson balances the dense script with polished visuals that allows the characters to further the hefty plot convincingly. It may be too hefty for some, but the effort put into watching will be well rewarded. Writers Peter Straughn and the late Bridget O’Connor were careful to closely follow the novel (which was also adapted into a seven-hour series by the BBC starring Alec Guinness) without overburdening the audience.
In the end, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a tense, complex, but worthwhile film that boasts one of the finest casts of recent times and a director who has exceeded expectations.
It will get a wide release later this month, but the keen moviegoer can catch it at Cineplex Queensway and various downtown theatres, including Varsity Theatre on Bloor Street and AMC Dundas Square.