REVIEW: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Espionage stories fall into one of two categories: thoughtful, well-plotted stories about characters forced to make difficult choices or high-tech, glossy larger-than-life adventures. Most espionage films and television have focused on the latter while the former has become a staple of modern day fiction with the acknowledged grandmaster being John le Carré. His books are difficult to adapt given the amount of plot and detail but they make for gipping reading and when brought to the screen entirely depend on the skill of the writer, director, and cast.
His best known novel is probably Tinker Tailor Solider Spy which was a wonderful miniseries starring Alec Guinness several decades back. This past holiday season, a big screen version was delivered and for the most part was overlooked by audiences. That’s a shame because as we now know, it gave Gary Oldman one of the most interesting roles of his career and brought him an Academy Award nomination for his work as George Smiley. The movie is out Tuesday on home video from Universal Home Entertainment.
The movie certainly benefitted from le Carré being a producer, but it was the skillful screenplay by Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O’Connor that boiled the novel into a digestible 2:08 movie. Director Tomas Alfredson grabbed the audience by their heads and said to them, “This requires your complete attention so focus now.” Early on, there are a series of scenes, some just seconds long that carefully build a mosaic of images and story points. We open with the resignation of Smiley and C (John Hurt), the head of MI:6, forced out in the wake of a botched mission in Budapest. Soon after, C dies from illness and Smiley is brought back in from the cold to work independently to prove whether or not a mole exists within the agency.
The remainder of the movie follows Smiley and his assistants as he methodically finds the crumbs that form a trail, leading him to suspect the mole was the new C, Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), or one of his deputies Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), or Toby Esterhase (David Denick). On his side is young (Peter Benedict Cumberbatch) and invaluable information comes from Ricki (Tom Hardy) and the agent who was in Budapest, Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong). With a cast this strong, it’s interesting to see just how restrained they all are. No histrionics, no scenery chewing, but sober-faced, serious men all with a great deal at stake. It all comes down to Smiley, and in time, we learn just how personal this has become, which sets up for a final showdown between Smiley and the mole.
The movie’s look matches the subject matter and the transfer to DVD preserves the somber look and feel. It looks and sounds just fine and keeps you riveted.
The Blu-ray edition comes with several unique features but was not sent for review. The standard DVD does come with deleted scenes that are fine to watch, a canned First Look piece, and commentary from Alfredson and Oldman that’s as serious as the film itself.
I wish there were more serious stories about the spycraft but for now, we are thankful to have this offering.