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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

A movie directed by Tomas Alfredson

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"It's the oldest question of all, George. Who can spy on the spies?"

  • Jan 23, 2012
What a pleasure it is to see a movie written, directed and acted by adults, for adults. No fiery blasts, no gruesome close-ups, no half-baked actor-heroes running around in tights as insects or small mammals. No, just a literate and complex script, a story told deliberately but not slowly which captures and keeps our attention, and actors who are so good they can say one thing, mean another, and who knows which is which? Because Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a John LeCarre spy story, there’s no glamour, just betrayal and a ruthlessness which is fascinating and repellent by both sides.
Control (John Hurt), head of the Circus, Britain’s spy agency, is convinced there is a Soviet mole among his top subordinates. He sends an agent to Hungary to discover who. The agent is betrayed and shot. In the scandal that follows, Control is forced to retire and with him his most trusted subordinate, George Smiley (Gary Oldman). Suddenly the Circus is running it’s own mole, gaining valuable secrets from a Soviet official based London. Is the information solid? Can it be used to get back in the good graces of the CIA? Could there really be a mole in the Circus? Maybe, say a mandarin or two in Whitehall, Control, now dead, could have been right.
Up to now we’ve been the fly on the wall. We’re not surprised when George Smiley is secretly asked to investigate his former colleagues and replies, “I’m retired.” We’re not surprised, either, when Smiley shortly after agrees. What might surprise us is the amount of tension, occasional violence and even sadness that George Smiley stirs up, most often deliberately.
Smiley is a grey man. His feelings are hidden. He’s been cuckolded by one of his former colleagues. He doesn’t say much; he sees much; and his mind is logical and devious. Gary Oldman gives one his best performances. Neither he nor Smiley gives much away, but look at how Oldman can use a slight twitch of his lip, a movement of his hand, a slight movement of his eyelid. When, halfway through the movie, we realize how ruthless a sincere-seeming George Smiley can be, the moment brings satisfaction as well as the creeps. It’s all Oldman.
Those George Smiley is prying out from their possible foreign home all are equal to the task of playing against Oldman. There is Toby Jones as Percy Alleline, David Dencik as Toby Esterhase, Colin Firth as Bill Haydon and Ciaran Hinds as Roy Bland. John Hurt as Control with his exhausted face full of wrinkles and bags makes a strong impression. In fact, there’s not a dull or misplaced actor in the movie.
The screenwriters, Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, and the director, Tomas Alfredson (a Swede who gave us Let the Right One In), have carried off something that seems to elude most mainstream Hollywood writers and directors. The movie is complex but still clear enough if you pay close attention. They assume the audience is literate and intelligent. They take their time when needed, but they assume you will stay with them. If you’ve never seen a photo of the Hagia Sophia in the middle of old Istanbul you may not realize the story has shifted locations. You will in just a few moments. If you did get the visual placemark, you’ll feel like patting yourself on the back…you’ve just been treated as a grownup.
Do all the subtle stratagems and clues become clear as we move along? I think so…but I’m not absolutely sure. I’ve read the book and watched with delight the television version with Alec Guinness. I knew whodunit while he was doing it. My knowing didn’t diminish my pleasure one bit. There was, maybe, a loose end or two, but if there was it didn’t amount to much.
The Alec Guinness version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a classic.
So is the Gary Oldman version. 

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January 24, 2012
Nice review indeed. This was one of my best of 2011.
January 23, 2012
Great review! This sounds like a refreshing film that we don't get too often in theatres nowadays. Thanks for sharing!
More Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy reviews
review by . December 18, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
A Rare, Methodical, Tense, Mind-Numbing Spy Drama For The Experienced Film Fan
Director Tomas Alfredson is a Swedish director responsible for the internationally acclaimed vampire film “Let The Right One In” which I loved so it would come as no surprise that I would be drawn to this British espionage thriller-drama “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”. Based on the novel by John le Carre which was later adapted into a British TV series, this is a film that demands a lot of concentration and persistence; it is utterly realistic, relies on its dialogue, performances …
review by . December 10, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an espionage film that isn’t about action and special effects so much as systematic investigation. There’s an analytical process at work, a logical deconstruction of the situation at hand. This isn’t to suggest that the film is a cold collection of facts and figures; in its narrative methodology, it’s a deeply involving mystery, and at times, it’s highly thrilling. We want to get to the …
review by . January 09, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
   Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of the spy-novel written by John Le Carre while not sticking to the roots it still powders the atmosphere with a thrilling sense of intelligent and masked conspiracy that will blow your mind. One of the most beautiful in-depth rides through the life of secret agents that use their minds as weapons instead of their fists and guns. Controlled, seductive, and eloquent, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" offers moments of a stylized manifesto of the …
About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer ()
Ranked #16
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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