Film: Review – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Espionage is an ugly business. Paranoia, stalking and deception are just everyday things, but when you can’t trust your friends…that’s when things start to get really nasty.

So it is in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a cerebral thriller based on John lé Carre’s 1974 novel, which delivers everything you might expect of a slice of home-grown British cinema.

The first thing which strikes you about Tinker, Tailor, other than the impressive pedigree of the ensemble cast, is how convincingly 70s everything seems. The usual period cars and fashions are present, but it’s the small details, such as lead man George Smiley’s (Gary Oldman) signature thick-rimmed black glasses, purchased during the pre-credits sequence, which ooze Cold War Britain, a rigid harsh front constantly alert to the threat of Communism.

A more useful feature of Smiley’s glasses is a clear way of working out when the story seen on screen is a flashback, since much of the film’s background is told in retrospect.

The setup sees Control (John Hurt) tell Mark Strong’s character Jim Prideaux that there is a Soviet Agent inside the secret service, known as ‘the Circus’, and it could be one of five men.

Tinker, Tailor and Soldier refer to three of the five suspects (played by Toby Jones, Colin Firth and Ciaran Hinds respectively), codenames given by control to the men so Prideaux could refer to them unknowingly in communications. The remaining two were the Poor Man (David Dencik) and the Rich Man – Smiley himself.

As part of the investigation, Control sends Prideaux to Budapest, Hungary, to find out some information about the mole, but things do not go to plan.

From here the film twists and turns as Smiley investigates what happened next, with the help of Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), a young civil servant in a neighbouring department of The Circus, and Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) a former asset who returns to provide information crucial to the investigation.

The drama is gripping and complex, with only the most agile of mind able to keep things straight, but the beauty of the film is that it doesn’t matter, and often an element of confusion enhances the tension as the plot curdles to treacle-thick proportions.

The cast are convincing right from the off, and even world-famous A-lister Colin Firth manages to toe the line to convince in a supporting role. Gary Oldman holds the narrative together in Oscar-baiting fashion, his reserved style of inquisition causing even professional spies to falter, and equally displaying a delicate emotional inflection as the story touches on his troubled relationship with his wife.

This film is perhaps a little to complex for its own good, but easily equal to the sum of its parts, and with such high quality ingredients in the cast, Let The Right One In Director Thomas Alfredson has managed to stitch together the most tense and gripping film so far this year.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

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