Year: 2011
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writer: Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan, John le Carre (novel)
Region of Origin: UK, France
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
35mm, Color, 127 mins

Synopsis: In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6’s echelons. (Source)

Tinker, Tailer, Solider, Spy is a refreshingly intelligent, no-nonsense spy thriller. It’s not the kind of over-the-top popcorn movie dependent on absurd, implausible action but a cold, slow, reserved psychological thriller where the greatest weapons are each character’s wits and the secrets which they hold. As in his previous movie Let The Right One In, director Tomas Alfredson has meticulously crafted a movie where every element is perfectly in tune with one another, this time to bring to life a world where every character’s life depends on staying one step ahead of each other, no matter what their personal histories or outside rapport may be with one another. It cleverly isn’t even about what these men are fighting for politically, instead focusing on their silent struggle with one another and within themselves as they cope with the weight and pressure which their powerful positions put upon them.

Adapted from legendary author John le Carre’s novel of the same name, the story takes place at the height of the Cold War and revolves around a Soviet mole hunt within the Circus, the top inner circle of the British MI6’s secret intelligence agency. After a botched mission, Control (John Hurt) and agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) are ousted from the group, leaving Smiley to uncover the double agent who lies within a handful of men he used to trust the most; these men are Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), and Bill Haydon (Colin Firth). It’s an extremely simple set-up with an ultimately simple outcome, but trust me when I tell you, the fun comes completely from the journey. Telling you any more of the movie’s dense labyrinthian plot would seriously be detrimental to the experience.

What really drew me towards the movie was it’s attention to realism (it’s loosely based on true stories), and it’s focus on making you feel each character’s paranoid states of mind. It does this by earning tension and dread through slow, methodical stillness, building a palpable atmosphere in each clandestine act which really begins to wear on you as the deadly story progresses. I also loved the movie’s technique of telling you everything through different character’s subjective flashbacks, making it nearly impossible to really know what’s real or not, and putting you in protagonist Smiley’s point of view as he attempts to discern every revelation he’s discovered. Even the dialogue helped to cement the believable world that’s been put on screen. No one speaks their thoughts or expositional plot points, instead adhering to le Carre’s tradecraft jargon or “spy speak“.

To really nail the characters of the story, Tinker, Tailor has arguably the best ensemble cast of the year. The inner circle featuring John Hurt, Toby Jones, the underused Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth and of course Gary Oldman shine with strong backing performances from Tom Hardy as renegade Ricky Tarr and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Guillam. Mentally, their characters operate on another level (just look no further than the opening set-up for proof of how this is brilliantly translated) and what I loved about it was how these actors each found a way to channel a very nuanced and understated human quality to their characters while illustrating how cold and detached their work had made them become. Even the distinct nods to every spy character archetype such as Firth’s flirty Bond-ish character were refreshing due to the fact that they were well used and subtly helped reinforce each unique persona.

Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy is amazing from top to bottom. The cold, steely cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is gorgeous, while every frame is meticulously thought out and almost always capturing the movie’s characters through some foreground obstruction, the performances are first rate, and Alberto Iglesias’ iconic Jazzy noir soundtrack adds a wholly cool layer of audible tapestry that ties it all together. Any spy fan would be at a loss for not checking this movie out, as it respects it’s audience enough to never spoon feed them, making for a more intelligent psychological spy game which ranks amongst the best ever put on screen. Lastly, I do want to point out that while the movie does stand on it’s own, it’s just the first in le Carre’s Karla Trilogy, and I’d love to see more of George Smiley’s exploits done by the same recurring cast and crew. Let’s make it happen… please?

Crome Rating: 4.5/5

SG