“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” – Film Review

It’s being lauded as the film of the year, a masterpiece and a five star film by many critics, but is it possible for a drama about stuffy old men investigating a mole in the Cold War British secret service to appeal to the masses? Unfortunately, the answer is no. “Tinker Tailor…” is a slow, sophisticated and intelligent film which deals with lonely old men ruminating and working out complex problems. It certainly is not for everyone. However, that does not stop it from being an enthralling and satisfying film to watch; although it seems that “Tinker Tailor…” is a type of film that simply is not made anymore.

To summarise the (very in-depth and complex) plotline is to do it a disservice, but I will try; essentially it is about George Smiley (Gary Oldman), an ex spy, who is recruited to try and determine the identity of a mole who has been discovered in the “Circus” (code name for the Secret Service). There are five suspects in the service who could be the mole; they are nicknamed Tinker (a suspicious and easy to hate Toby Jones), Tailor (a suave and well-dressed Colin Firth), Soldier (Ciaran Hinds a quiet and stern fellow), Poorman (a snivelling David Dencik) and Beggarman (Gary Oldman’s character is also a suspect just to confuse things even more).

As you can probably tell already, this film is assembling an already formidable cast of fantastic british actors. John Hurt is the former head of operations (“Control”), Benedict Cumberbatch is Peter Guillam (Smiley’s assistant) and Tom Hardy is an informant; plus there is Mark Strong and Stephen Graham playing minor roles. Just looking at this list it becomes apparent that the first Academy Award for casting director should be awarded to Jina Jay for the amazing ensemble in this film. It is not surprising then, that the performances by everyone in the film are transcendent. Gary Oldman is simply perfect as Smiley. He seems to be able to infuse all of his scenes  with a sense of intelligence and despondency; never have I seen a character who is so watchable without really doing anything overwhelmingly exciting. I could continue talking about all the  different actors’ performances individually, but suffice it to say that no-one is disappointing and they all pull their weight sufficiently (I would not be surprised if next year’s Oscar nominations for best supporting actor is made entirely of the “Tinker Tailor…” cast).

The plot of “Tinker Tailor…” may be complex, but that is the main appeal; too often we see films which over explain what is happening and keep giving the audience hints and reminders. Here, we see none of this, if you don’t keep up you probably will get lost. Everything makes sense, but does require you to engage with the film to make sure that you’re following. For example, there are a number of flashbacks which aren’t indicated by any convention other than the fact that they don’t fit in the chronology of the action (no change of colour or focus and definitely no subtitles to inform us of what is happening). By treating the audience as grown-ups, who don’t need to be spoon fed the story, “Tinker Tailor…” gives a sense of achievement after watching the film and therefore the conclusion is far more rewarding than the finale of most modern blockbusters.

2008’s Let The Right One In rejuvenated vampire films from being both camp and un-scary or teenage romance films to actually being scary, original and narrative focussed. Director Tomas Alfredson does the same again with this spy film; Jason Bourne and James Bond are stars of this genre, but now also the are the aged men of “Tinker Tailor…” wearing grey and brown suits. He defies most conventions by simply toning down the colour of the film – most scenes take place in the dark or wet – to convey the lifeless existence of the spies.  The editing is similarly toned down, everything is slowly paced, so action is never rushed and this allows time for tension to build.

To put it simply, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is another great film from director Tomas Alfredson. Although it may not be for everyone, its sophisticated plot and direction accompanied with superb acting make it unmissable.