- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Focus Features
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ny time you bring together a group of actors like the ones featured in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” your job as a director is already halfway done. Comprised of some of the finest British screen veterans and rising stars in the business, the film’s cast is so good that they’d be entertaining to watch even if they just stood around and talked for two hours. And as it happens, that’s basically “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” in a nutshell, although it's far more interesting than it sounds. An intellectual game of cat-and-mouse steeped in so much deception that even the audience won’t know what to believe at times, the film may not be as exciting as it could be, but it’s still an engaging thriller that succeeds mainly due to its fantastic cast.
Set in the midst of the Cold War, the film follows retired intelligence officer George Smiley (Gary Oldman) as he’s thrust back into the spy game after his former boss (John Hurt) is relieved of duty following a botched mission to retrieve information about a Russian mole working within MI-6. But when AWOL agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) contacts Smiley confirming not only that a mole has infiltrated the Secret Intelligence Service, but that it’s one of four men who work within the highest echelon known as the Circus – given the codenames Tinker (Toby Jones), Tailor (Colin Firth), Soldier (Ciaran Hinds) and Poorman (David Dencik) to make them easier to identify – Smiley teams up with his loyal assistant Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) to smoke out the double-agent.
As mentioned earlier, the acting in the film is top-notch, even though some of the actors (specifically Firth, Jones and Hinds) have so little to do that you have to wonder why they even bothered. Despite their small roles, however, it helps to have actors of that caliber among the cast if only because it raises the level of the performances all around. Gary Oldman delivers an incredibly subtle turn as the iconic George Smiley, barely uttering a word for the first hour, and it’s a pleasant change of pace for an actor best known for playing over-the-top villains. But for as much attention as Oldman’s performance is receiving, it’s Benedict Cumberbatch (of “Sherlock” fame) who really shines as Smiley’s right-hand man. It’s no surprise, then, that he’s also at the center of the movie’s most memorable set piece – a dangerous journey into the lion’s den to steal important files.
Though “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is admittedly a bit difficult to follow at times, it’s not because the story is overly complicated, but rather because so much information is crammed into the movie’s 127-minute runtime that it's a lot to digest. There are also several subplots from John le Carré's novel that have clearly been given short shrift due to time restraints, which is a shame, because the film would have really benefited from fleshing out some of its characters more – something the 1979 TV miniseries starring Alec Guinness was afforded plenty of time to do. Nevertheless, screenwriters Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor have done an admirable job of condensing the story into a feature-length movie that still makes sense, while director Tomas Alfredson ("Let the Right One In") wrings some excellent tension out of the proceedings. Although it takes a while to get going, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" is an incredibly smart and well-acted throwback to classic 1970s spy thrillers that le Carré himself would be proud of.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
You’d think that an audio commentary by Gary Oldman would be the highlight of just about any Blu-ray release, but in the case of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” you’d be wrong. The track – which also features director Tomas Alfredson – is one of the most boring commentaries that I’ve ever sat through. The rest of the extras aren’t much better, including some worthless deleted scenes and a series of interviews with select cast and crew, although the included making-of featurette isn’t a complete waste of time.