Film Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)


Brilliant, glacial, cerebral, meticulous, and complex are all words that can describe this Cold War thriller, based on the 1974 John le Carre novel, and its protagonist, senior intelligence officer George Smiley. An impressive cast of heavyweight British thespians led by the chameleonic Gary Oldman in the lead role, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a convoluted web of espionage as Smiley is brought out of retirement to hunt down the identity of a Soviet spy in the highest echelon of MI6.

Condensing the massive and complicated novel into a single film was clearly no easy task, yet the filmmakers managed to achieve the near impossible in maintaining the storyline, characterization, and tone of the critically acclaimed book. However, the accelerated cinematic language that results from this adaptation means that viewers will certainly have to pay close attention to the screen in order to decipher clues and trace the actions of the characters in their shadowy game of cat and mouse. Whole scenes of action or decision are occasionally reduced to an establishing shot and a single line of voiceover and some key characters are introduced obliquely. The pacing and suspense, however, never detracts from the depth of the characters themselves: isolated, focused, and secretive men with unclear alliances.

In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Gary Oldman gives a fantastically restrained performance as a highly intelligent and taciturn British spy. Like a chess grandmaster, all the talent and greatness of Smiley resides inside his mind yet Oldman manages to display Smiley’s brilliance in the tiniest of gestures, from calculated blinks to meaning-laden pauses in speech. A number of distinguished peers, from John Hurt, Colin Firth, and Toby Jones to Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Tom Hardy also support Oldman through their performances. Director Tomas Alfredson crafts a phenomenal and intellectual spy thriller, elevating both genre and form with masterful storytelling and filmmaking.

Rating: 5 out of 5 chess pieces

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