Movie Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy- An Incredibly Classy, Intelligent, Meticulous Thriller That is Dependent on Tension, Ambiance, and Subtlety

As the years go by it’s becoming more obvious that modern cinema tends to be overstated, saturated, and fails to appropriately remain in the confines of a chosen genre, which eventually leads a film to lose its footing in theme, tone, and atmosphere. This is especially so in the spy genre, which has deviated so far from the calculating, manipulative, and shady aspects of its origins to being unfocused, convoluted, and even cliché (think the Bourne Series or even most James Bond movies). But cliché isn’t a word to describe director Tomas Alfredson who tackled the Vampire film in such a unique and frighteningly memorable way in 2008 with Let the Right One In. And Alfredson’s dedication to tension, ambiance, and subtlety, which were evident in his previous film, are the central elements guiding the meticulously designed and graciously classy spy thriller adaptation of John Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. With the help of his cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, a glorious cast of British players, and a moving score from Alberto Iglesias, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy becomes a complexly calculated spy thriller that teems with brilliance every step of the way. Set in the 70s and deliciously color toned throughout, the film follows retired MI6 agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) trying to out maneuver and oust a Communist spy at the top of the British intelligence service. What proceeds is a thorough and mind-bending thriller that is full of implicit tension that wouldn’t have succeeded without the master class performance from Gary Oldman as George Smiley, which is exquisitely internal and beyond Oscar worthy. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is like the “Mad Men” of spy movies, which is at once an adoring homage to the spy films of the 60s and 70s but also increasingly classy and refreshingly modern as each element is cleverly revealed to the audience in a commanding and rare form of cinematic thriller presentation.

Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy is an anomaly of spy movies because it is solely dependent upon realism, the understanding of people, and getting the intellectual upper hand, which throws out all of the unneeded expectations of distracting explosions, the non-stop gunfire, and the unsteady camera work. Instead we are placed in the gradual process of uncovering the mystery in the authentic step by step process of international investigative work that is complimented by a focused attention to characters as well as smooth, elegant camera work. The well planned tapestry of unique players is controlled by the great script written by Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor (RIP) and provides a puzzling guessing game of conspiracy, deception, and assumption. All of the assumed suspects to be the mole at the top of the circus, played by Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, and David Dencik, make you question all of their loyalty and interests as the investigative work moves in and out of their deeds and motives. But really it’s the scripts dedication to the protagonist Smiley that gives the film its melancholic tone and intriguing step by step procedural approach. Smiley is a master of his craft, whether he’s interrogating Toby Esterhase in Machiavellian fashion or keeping information secret to safeguard his team. Though he is physically lacking in perfect eye sight, utilizing glasses in the same way Miller’s Crossing uses hats, Smiley sees all around him when work is concerned but has a tragic flaw when it comes to his personal life. This personal sense of betrayal in Smiley reflects largely in the film as though catching the Communist mole will amend his personal weakness (or blind spot). Though supported by dazzling performances (especially Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Strong), an intelligent script, and stunning cinematography, the real strength of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a study of minimalism, either how much is revealed to an audience or what is stylistically chosen to be presented on the screen. With too many overstated dramas these days it is really a stunning achievement that a film with so much class, subtlety, and introspection could be such an involving and tense experience.

Too often there are films that showcase particular talents, whether there is a performance an audience walks away with or the stunning visuals that have impressed them throughout. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one of those rare films where everything from the cinematography, the direction, the performances, the art direction, and the score come together for a pristine film. Certainly Gary Oldman’s performance is the highlight of the movie, but everything surrounding him from the colorful set designs, the detailed costumes, and the moody lighting must have aided in putting him in the proper mood. It might be too hopeful to believe that this movie could revitalize the longing for truly intelligent, mature dramas seeing as how it’s still considered such a risk. But every risk in this film, including the minimalist delivery, the incredibly implicit yet meticulous script, and the subdued acting were well worth the experience. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy return to thought provoking and audience involving thrillers gives it a sense that it will be a film that will be highly thought of years from now as a piece that is as manipulative, calculating, and void as its central protagonist and that is something to reflect about for a long while.

Grade: A

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