Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an espionage thriller based on the 1974 novel by John le Carré. It focuses on the efforts of a “retired” intelligence officer to ferret out a mole at the very highest level of the British intelligence community.

The movie is thoughtfully paced, which is good… because it gives you a LOT to think about. It creates an atmosphere thick with intrigue and suspense, then lays out one of the most intricately detailed plots you could wish for.

Do some Sudoku or crossword puzzles or something to warm your brain up before heading into the theatre on this one folks. This is the antithesis of the “dumbed down” movie. It’s a thinking person’s movie through and through.

George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is a high-ranking British intelligence expert who is forced into retirement along with his direct superior. It turns out to be a fortunate occurrence however, as it leaves him uniquely situated to investigate rumors of a “mole” that began to surface at roughly the same time that he retired. The information he is given indicates that the mole is at the very top levels of the British intelligence community, and is leaking valuable information to the Soviets.

Smiley takes the assignment. With the help of a couple of assistants, he begins to pull the thread and unravel the conspiracy. There are four men of rank, Smiley’s ex-peers, who are under suspicion. Smiley focuses his efforts on learning the details surrounding the shooting of an operative in Hungary – a man he suspects had his cover blown by the mole – and begins to work his way towards the truth.

Director Tomas Alfredson does an incredible job here. He creates a movie that has the feel of a film from the 1970s… a time where plot was paramount and people were given credit as an audience that they could follow complex events. Alfredson gives you absolutely the minimal amount of information you need to connect the dots, and then when you make the connection, its a very rewarding experience. He sets a pace with the film that’s steady, not slow. It was obvious to me that this was a very deliberate film, but I never felt bored. The tension was too high.

I was fascinated as I watched the teletype messages come across, watched files get swiped, watched safes open… There were covers and interrogations, assassinations… THIS is a spy movie. No outrageous gadgets, no karate, no car chases. Just an intricate game of chess. A cat and mouse game between a double agent and the agent in pursuit. It has a fantastic period feel to it, they really did a great job turning back the clock to a bygone day when the cold war was being fought via battles just like this.

The cast is ridiculously excellent here. The term “Embarrassment of Riches” comes to mind. Aside from the strong lead from Gary Oldman, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik, Colin Firth and Toby Jones all give great supporting roles as the men under suspiscion of being double agents. Benedict Cumberbatch has some of the tensest moments in the movie as the operative who plays Smiley’s right hand man, and Tom Hardy is – again – amazing as an operative who knows too much. The fact that he is going to be a huge star is one of the surest bets on the board at this point.

I was very impressed with this film’s ability to incrementally bring you along. To pace itself jussssst right and give you the facts in a steady manner. The acting was great, the look and feel of the film was great… I do have some minor nitpicks here and there, but they’re just that. Nitpicks. Had I seen this film in time to include it on my top ten list, I would have. C’est la vie.

I will tell you this though. This is the first of the “Karla” Trilogy from le Carré. Is it too much to ask for them all to make the big screen with Oldman as the lead?


34 thoughts on “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

  1. You don’t know how relieved I am that you enjoyed the film and gave it an A! Considering how much I’ve been raving about it at you whenever I got the chance… I am RELIEVED!

    Definitely a proper spy film and don’t even bother trying to watch it you can’t stay awake! Honestly though, I think I got lost a couple of times. Mostly because you’re thrown straight into what’s going on without an explanation. But I’m GLAD there was no hand holding during the entire film.

    • LOL… “You dont know” Oh, I think I can imagine. Putting a rave review out there and really doing cartwheels over it and then seeing someone else you know saw YOUR review either left a comment or posted a review of their own? That little “Uh oh” feeling? I can relate…trust me 😀

      So, yeah. I think a 5/5 is worthy. On my scale I couldnt give it any pluses because there were a few knocks I have (that Spy turned Teacher subplot was pretty unnecessary for example) But it’s a first rate piece of entertainment. Top Notch.

      I’ll join the fan club on this one J. 😀

  2. It was probably my favourite film of last year, so I’m glad you’ve given it such high praise. Not only is it a brilliant cast but the subtleties and tension Alfredson provides from his direction is terrific.

    I love the book as well so had pretty low expectations, but this certainly lived up to the brilliance of the novel.

    • Wow, numero Uno, huh TCT? Cool.

      Yeah, this would have easily made my top ten. %#&$ Hollywood. You say you’ve read the book. Have you by any chance read the next two? Its a trilogy. Just wondering if there’s any chance I might see more of this series on the big screen…

  3. What a well-written review Dan! This was awesome!

    I, too, am glad to know you liked it so much. Sounds like it really is the type of movie it should be. I like the fact that it doesn’t dumb itself down for audiences.

    A spy film that will, undoubtedly, make its way to my collection. And here’s to Oldman getting an Oscar nod! Thanks for this review!

    • No problem T, you know that’s what I do here!

      And YES good point. In my opinion? The marketing for this movie was PERFECT. It showed you exactly what they were selling, and then when you finally saw it, it was as good as advertised.

      I think if you like what you’re seeing in all the promo material, you’ll really like the movie.

  4. As you already know, I am really excited to see this film. The book was good; although, I can’t say that I absolutely loved it. That had nothing to do with plot and characters though, and I’ve heard that the movie is done in such a way that even if you’ve read the source material you might still enjoy it. I am thinking this might be one of the rare occasions that I like a movie over the book. Thanks for the write-up.

    • No problemo.

      Like I was just telling Terrence, I think if you like what they’re advertising, you’ll like the movie. As to how it would compare to the book, etc. I cannot enlighten you

      I’ll just say I liked it a lot. Too often, the movies that are very intelligent aren’t that entertaining, while the movies that are very entertaining aren’t that intelligent. It’s nice to meet a movie that covers both bases well.

  5. It’s a good flick but there is just way too much info being thrown at us with such a small amount of time. Yes, two hours and seven minutes is a short time-limit considering we have everything about these guys and this mystery thrown at us left-and-right. Good review Fogs.

    • You’ve got a point, Dan. This movie is DENSE with info. I enjoyed the challenge of keeping it straight though. I think, too, that that’s going to make repeat viewings worthwhile… There’s going to be lots of little details to pick up on we missed the first time through.

  6. Masterpiece! Enigma? If you’re confused, well you’re meant to be. Can’t say too much about the plot because some of your readers have’nt seen it yet. But the cast! Wow! The only misstep was Colin Firth as Haydon. His marquee name is good for business but not subtle. Tom Hardy is becoming (if not already) the superstar status that others claim(like Ryan Gosling). Ben Cumberbatch is a Fav( check out “Sherlock” season 2). Alfredson, with this and “Let the right one in” has to be the next big thing in directors. Tricky filk with a company called the “Circus” and a boss known only as “Control”. In any sequels “Carla” becomes must more “visible”.

    • Ohhh… I dunno. I thought Firth was good, you didnt like him in that role? I have no preconceptions or anything, so.

      Yes. Good point on Alfredson. He’s absolutely on my directors to watch out for list.

      I’m passing on the tv stuff for now, just dont have time. But I will say that a LOT of people are raving about him (Cumberbatch). Dont know if you listen to the podcast, but Tank is a big fan of that show.

      As to the sequels, I can only hope they happen. I dont even know how that would work with a smaller movie like this. In terms of wide release megaplex stuff, I understand the Box numbers better. I dont know what TTSS would need to hit here in order to earn part deux. Or even if that would interest the filmmakers… 😦 I just know I’d love to see ’em.

      • I’m checking out your yearend podcast tonight over supper. Just an interesting note on the spy-teacher subplot in TTSS. It happened. People following Le Carre knew this part was his secret desire. After all he had been outed as a spy by that Super mole of moles,Kim Philby!

      • I didn’t know any of that (obviously) but if that’s the case, it would be a tough editorial choice… But one that still should be made. It’s inclusion is not the best for the film, in my opinion.

      • No, you dont have to leave the room. I mean, he’s fine and all, to me, but he’s not like a favorite of mine or anything. I can’t see the reason for speaking poorly of him here though, I think he did fine.

        But as I mentioned above, i didnt have any preconceptions about what that role should have been or anything – never read the book or saw the Alec Guinness version.

      • Guess my use of the word “subtle” for casting Colin Firth isn’t clear. He was fine in this like always, but casting him was a “tell”. Needed to be someone more mysterious(like the rest of the circus) and a lot less GQ!

      • Well, yeah, that makes more sense. Its a good point too, As others have mentioned, sharp movie goers probably instinctively realized it would be him. I did.

        Yet, it didnt detract from my enjoyment.

        Still. You right, you right.

  7. You ”hit the nail on the head” PERFECTLY with your review of “Tinker….”.I’m still a little confused by the ending. Can someone who has read the book and seen the movie explain it???

    • Thanks!

      (See Jaina? I know what you mean for sure! S – that’s in reference to Jainas comment above about the pressures involved when you strongly recommend something)


      No worries here though. Rock solid. Slow moving, but so full of detail… and the atmosphere is great. I think the people who wouldn’t enjoy would wind up being weeded out by the trailers… It’s very much what you imagine it will be.

  8. You hit spot on EXACTLY what I thought of it. I didn’t know you were THIS good Fogs. 😉 I drove an hour to see it and it was worth it. I’m always a attentive when I watch a film and it’s a good feeling when you encounter a film that rewarding when putting the pieces together.

    • Yes. Reading minds is actually a part of my arsenal. I recommend it highly to all bloggers. LOL 😀

      It IS rewarding, isnt it? When I watched it, it made me a bit sad that audiences dont get that kind of credit often anymore. In the 70s, directors used to not “lay it out” for everyone as easily… Somewhere along the lines they became worried people wouldnt get it, and the Assumed Movie Audience IQ was lowered by 30-40 points.

  9. Reeeeaaallly don’t agree. I found it cold, empty, devoid of any deeper meaning, and ultimately uncompelling. The resolution to the “mystery” was obvious from the onset, as the mole was really the only secondary character they invested any time into developing beyond “yea, this guy is just kind of a crotchety dick”.

    Gary Oldman had one expression thoughout the entirety of the film: nothingness, and as much as it’s nice to see him in a non-batman role where he isn’t completely insane and cooky, he definitely went too far in the opposite direction.

    Tom Hardy’s arc was really the only part of the movie I found interesting and it got no resolution. They just dump his character off once he’s served his purpose in the general, completely boring and uninteresting main “mystery”.

    Its a shlog of a film if I’ve ever seen one.

    • Well, that’s fine. And I’ll even go so far as to give you “Devoid of any deeper meaning’… even though I’d counter that not all films NEED deeper meanings. Many are just for entertainment purposes only.

      Felt that was the case here, and found it did an excellent job!

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