Film Review: TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Wr:iters Bridget O’Connor (screenplay), Peter Straughan (screenplay), John le Carré (novel)
Stars: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, John Hurt,

One faithful, successful adaptation of a book is a miracle. To try for two is tempting fate. John Le Carré’s 1974 novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was already the basis of an internationally popular BBC miniseries in 1979, highlighted by Alec Guinness’s performance as spycatcher George Smiley. The new film version compresses the same material into two hours, and manages to make it new.

In 1973, Control (John Hurt), the head of British Intelligence, dispatches an agent to Hungary in order to confirm his worst fear: that one of the five men near the top of his organization is a Soviet mole. The operation proves disastrous, forcing Control and one of the suspects, his right-hand man Smiley (Gary Oldman), into the cold. When additional information validates Control’s suspicions, Smiley is the only person who can be trusted to find the traitor.

The marvel of a screenplay by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan tells the story in ellipses, with what’s left out every bit as critical as what remains. The few additions to Le Carré’s original framework bring tremendous nuance. Multiple flashbacks to a drunken staff Christmas party unpeel layers of deception. A glimpse of the private life of Smiley’s adjutant illustrates the necessity of keeping secrets from colleagues. Meticulous costume and production design capture the period flawlessly. Never before have so many shades of brown, from cheap cocoa to smoker’s lung, been in the same film. Direction Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) sustains a mood of tension throughout, culminating in an glorious extended montage set to the sprightly “La Mer” that serves as perfect punctuation.

Above all, Tinker Tailor is impeccably cast. Smiley is persuaded to return to duty out of obligation to his generation, making it apt that wily veterans like Hurt share the screen here with the next crop of British actors like Tom Hardy (Inception, Warrior) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock). Mark Strong, a welcome presence in so many recent movies, has the best role of his career as doomed operative Jim Prideaux. But it’s Oldman who takes center stage, and he finds ways of honoring Guinness’s interpretation of George Smiley while making the character wholly his own. His performance, epic in its watchfulness, not only holds the film together but elevates it.

Vince Keenan
Mr. Vince is a renaissance man. He reads books (most without pictures!), makes cool computer games and enjoys long walks on the beach…he enjoys them even more if he is holding a cocktail in hand. He lives in Seattle with Rosemary, his lovely wife.  For his thoughts on books, films, music, sports and more, Check out his blog.