Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) – Gary Oldman is an actor who can go wildly over-the-top. That’s not a bad thing. Some of his larger-than-life characters have been the best things in movies like Léon or Air Force One. His sneering Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy or his Old World emo vampire in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oldman tends to go big or go home. For this reason, he might seem an odd choice to be paired with director Tomas Alfredson, whose brilliant Let the Right One In was a masterful display of understatement. Oldman, however, is a great actor so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that he nails his role as master spy George Smiley. Oldman is so reined-in that he doesn’t really even speak for the first ten minutes or so of the movie. The performance is all in his eyes and it is a great one.

The movie begins with a secret agent (Mark Strong) on a mission that goes disastrously wrong. The head of British Intelligence, a man called Control (John Hurt), is forced to resign over the debacle and his right-hand man, Smiley, has to go with him. Months later Control is dead, and Smiley is brought in to do one last investigation (though author John le Carré wrote several books with Smiley as lead so you can take a guess how “final” this mission is): there is a mole in British Intelligence and Control had it narrowed down to five suspects. The first was Percy Alliline, codename: “Tinker” (Toby Jones), who is now in control of the “Circus” (as the agency is called). The second is Bill Haydon, codename: “Tailor” (Colin Firth), who has been having an affair with Smiley’s wife. The third is Roy Bland, codename: “Soldier” (Ciarán Hinds), who is the least developed of the bunch (fitting, given his surname). The fourth is Toby Esterhause, codename: “Poorman” (David Dencik), a Hungarian immigrant who had been recruited by Control in Vienna. The final suspect was Smiley himself. Smiley is assisted by his protégé Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch, the most British-named person EVER). An added complication involves the the deep-cover operation of a rogue agent (Tom Hardy).

Obviously there is a lot going on in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but the film never felt overlong and the plot never seemed overcrowded. With the unfortunate exception of Hinds, who is a very talented actor in general, all the characters are given their moment to shine. The cast for this film is exceptional. Alfredson brings the same expert pacing to this film and I was absorbed following the twists and turns of the plot. However the strength of the film lies in characterization more than convoluted storyline. If this film gets the awards-love it truly deserves, I hope that some of le Carré’s sequels get the big screen treatment as well (both Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and sequel Smiley’s People were made by the BBC in the 1970s with Sir Alec Guinness as Smiley). I’ll have to check them out (I love Guinness as much as the beverage that bears his name) but I can’t imagine it being as great as this one. Truly, one of the year’s best.

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