This is a film about spies and espionage. But if you’re expecting to see action sequences, high-tech weaponry and special effects, you’ll be sorely disappointed. More than anything, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a tale of trust and deception.

Based on British writer John le Carré’s classic novel of the same name, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy offers a chillingly realistic depiction of the treachery that goes on within the famous M16 British Secret Intelligence Service, which is constantly referred to in the movie as the ‘Circus’. Carre’s very own experience working in M16 has produced a narrative that shows us the true workings of espionage – and it is clear that the real Secret Service is a far cry from the sensationalised portrayal you’d see in theJames Bondfranchise.

Set in the 1970s, at the height of the Cold War, the movie starts with an intelligence mission gone horribly awry with the apparent death of a Circus agent. The scandal that ensues leads to the forced resignation of the protagonist George Smiley (played by Gary Oldman), a veteran agent. What quickly follows is an accusation by rogue agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) that a Soviet mole has managed to infiltrate the highest echelons of M16. Smiley is eventually asked to investigate this accusation, and is thrown back into a climate of paranoia.

Director Tomas Alfredson, best known for his work on the Swedish film adaptation of Let the Right One In, paints the film with a dominantly grey color palette, the colours desaturated and gloomy. Such a decision is perfectly congruent with the repressed emotion portrayed by the spies and dubious characters in the film – in fact, it is frequently asserted throughout the movie that emotion is a spy’s greatest weakness.

When it comes to repressed emotion, Gary Oldman does it best. Even while the rest of the cast features brilliant English actors with the likes of John Hurt, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Toby Jones, all of which were terrific in their roles, Oldman plays the veteran agent Smiley with perfect stoicism. His methods of investigation and observations are careful and precise; his apparent lack of emotion a necessary sacrifice to prevent clouding his judgment. Behind his oversized glasses, Smiley is a brooding, inscrutable presence in the film that commands attention. Such a performance is a stark contrast to the more spirited characters that Oldman has played – an example being the flamboyant Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg in 1997’s The Fifth Element and as Sex Pistols’ bassist Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy. With this in consideration, and even without, Oldman does a stunning job – it is no wonder that he has finally been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in this film.

The film manages to thrill and capture attention with few action sequences, which is no mean feat. In a scene where an agent infiltrates the Circus headquarters to obtain vital intelligence, the tension that is present is easily brought to a nerve-wracking degree, even without the threat of violence. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy thrives on suspense delivered via minute plot details and careful observations. While the Bourne film series can be seen as a noisy, extroverted boy who demands attention with grand gestures, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy would be the silent, enigmatic cousin whose presence builds a foreboding aura.

With all that said and done, Tinker can sometimes get confusing in its plot – which is a minor annoyance. There is a cornucopia of different characters, each with distinctive characteristics even in the short screen time some of them have, and one can easily get these names mixed up. Some of the lingo used might be unfamiliar to a non-British viewer, and while it doesn’t detract from the overall experience of the movie, it might take away some of the immersion that a viewer can have in the treacherous world of espionage. Also, many important plot points are built around subtle details and not made known clearly. It helps to have an observant eye in order to really enjoy Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  George Smiley would be proud.

Movie: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Feb 9
Duration: 127 minutes
Language: English
Age Rating:
Genre: Thriller

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy