Taut thrillers have been left by the wayside in recent years - action films and romantic comedies are more sure investments for studios - but here, a prize one, has been placed right into our laps.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy opens as George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is about to receive the boot. Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) and Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) have the favor of Control (John Hurt) so the failure of their most recent assignment must fall square on the shoulders of Smiley.
Retirement suits Smiley well enough: he swims daily, reads the paper, and even decides to update his eye-wear (a nice reference when keeping track of the non-linear story). Yet retirement doesn't last long for Smiley, he is called in by Control. The Russians are have infiltrated "the circus" and Smiley has been tasked with finding a mole in his agency. When men start dying the stakes cannot be higher. But who can you trust?
Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carré’s novel gives in to the unrelenting suspicion of the Cold War where each agent is constantly wondering if the last sound they will hear is a silencer. Whether the camera closes in behind Smiley, Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) or Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) in various states of distress, the feeling of paranoia is expertly captured by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema. Frequently placing these members of MI6 at the center of a wide-shot, looking over their shoulder, the audience wonders if it is their last appearance onscreen as well.
Spy films are very rarely this subdued, but the quiet, tension-filled moments of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy match John LeCarré's work perfectly. Gary Oldman gives one of the finest performances of his career as the quiet analyst, Smiley is not going to be brash enough to leap out at Academy voters, but his performance is no less impressive. He is glib in his answers, yet earnest in finding his own.
What impresses most about Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the benign nature of it all. James Bond is the template for the genre, but this interpretation is far more honest. The agency is a self-contained one, made up of huddled, tweeded masses who believe themselves to be the last line between England and the Soviet Union, but they are just paper pushers. The real enemies are in their own ranks.
***1/2 out of ****