Movie Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

By Stephen Rebello

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is easily one of the best films of the year.

Director: Tomas Alfredson MPAA Rating: R Studio: Studio Canal, Working Title Films

The 1979 Alec Guinness-starring 5-hour version of John le Carré’s game changing 1974 Cold War espionage novel Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy ranks as such a TV milestone, some might think it was untouchable. Yet along comes this superb, engrossing, brilliantly made 2-plus hour big screen adaptation, magnificently directed by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) and adapted by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan. The film is so strong in every way, that let’s just say the Guinness version now has a worthy counterpart rather than a replacement.

Set in a perfectly recreated atmosphere of  the 1970s, along with the accompanying dread and paranoia, this tight, hushed, intelligent and mesmerizing thriller is the polar opposite of a James Bond or Bourne action film. It revolves around a taciturn, constantly watchful British Secret Service agent “George Smiley,” played by Gary Oldman. Oldman’s mild-mannered veteran spy gets charged by bureau chief John Hurt, with flushing out a double agent within their ranks.

Amid standout scenes and sequences staged with elegant cat-and-mouse precision by Alfredson (watch for a Christmas party scene with more than a touch of Hitchcock), Oldman sniffs out dark doings, lies and secrets among all-too-human SS colleagues played by Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Kathy Burke, Ciarán Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch and Toby Jones.

The labyrinthine twists and unravelings may come too slowly for some, but Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy richly rewards with slow-burn tension, flashes of violence and extraordinary performances, especially by Oldman, Firth, Hinds and a standout Kathy Burke. Get your cloak and dagger out of mothballs. This is easily one of the smartest, very best films of the year.


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