Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a film directed by Tomas Alfredson and based on John le Carré’s 1974 British spy novel, is a welcome reminder of what suspense is capable of–what it can do to us and what it can do for us.
First, our setting:
- England in the midst of the Cold War. The head of MI6, Control (John Hurt), believes there is a Soviet mole at the top of his agency.
[Interesting side-note: John le Carré, who is actually David Cornwell, wrote this based on his actual experiences in MI5 and MI6 in the 50’s and 60’s…back to the story]
Next, our suspects:
- Tinker–Percy Alleline (Toby Jones)
- Tailor–Bill Haydon (Colin Firth)
- Soldier–Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds)
- Poor Man–Toby Esterhase (David Dencik)
- Beggarman–George Smiley (Gary Oldman)
Finally, our story: After a bloody incident in Budapest involving the public death of operative Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), Control and Smiley are forced into early retirements.
A year later, after the death of Control, suspicions of a mole within resurface with a phone call from rogue operative Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy). Smiley is covertly called in to investigate and with the help of one insider, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), he dives back into a world of secrets, deception, and expertly crafted stories.
It’s a story of vigilance, persistence, and patience, and it is told completely out of order. Questions are presented, abandoned, and then answered at a later point. It’s almost as though they’re making sure you’re paying as close attention as Smiley is…as you should be.
Details are slowly discovered and what starts out as a seemingly singular event completely without context becomes a detailed and intricately woven plot.
At the center of it all is Smiley, a man apparently untouched by time. As the plot jumps back and forth through time and space, he remains nearly the same (aside from his awesome and “awesomer” specs). He sits, he watches, he listens, he notices.
As Smiley, Gary Oldman is stoicism incarnate. He is unflinching, steadfast, solemn and completely mesmerizing. He doesn’t say much, so when he speaks, you listen. This my friends, is how to use silence. In the midst of a world filled with backroom meetings, cigarette smoke, and a whole lot of drinking (seriously), Smiley is the picture of calm reflection…with plenty of drinking and smoking too.
In general this is a fairly quiet film. There are no grand explosions, dangling from truly terrifying heights, no revelatory flashback sequences, no moment when everything finally comes together, and few things you’d expect from a modern spy movie. The entire plot is a sequence of bringing everything together. No one piece is more important than any other.
So how can this possibly be suspenseful? After all, there no cliffs (literal or metaphorical), no grand finales, no tension ridden musical interludes. It’s a mystery…and a darn good spy story.
p.s. the Golden Globes are upon us…keep an eye out for 2WC coverage of the big day…and a congrats to the nominated Mr. Gary Oldman.