Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Cinema Review

'a world away from even his quiet and reserved Jim Gordon, Smiley is an awards-worthy creation from Oldman'

John le Carré is exceptional at writing stories about people who are not James Bond and in that regard, Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is entirely successful. The film's two-hour plus runtime is laced with the feeling that we are watching a collection of men who are on the verge of giving up, breaking down, walking away or defecting. The fear of failure is as heavy as the tobacco scented air, as is the feeling of being passed by progress or betrayed by whoever is next in line, another common trope in le Carré's dissection of the profession he formally moved in.

George Smiley (Gary Oldman), returning to the service at the request of a government official (Simon McBurney) in order to root out a mole in the intelligence service, moves through the narrative like a quiet and pallid imitation of death. He barely speaks and when he does it is often in the ill-disposed whisper of a man who doesn't care if you hear him or not. Hardly the material super-spies are made out of but then, that's le Carré all over.

Alfredson's approach to the narrative, which follows Smiley's quest whilst flashing back to dramatise actions that have led to his re-involvement with the service, ensures some dynamism in the narrative but it still feels like something is missing. Everything is shot in close quarters, at volumes barely above a whisper. A long shot here or a dynamic piece of editing there wouldn't have gone amiss. The tension only really rises twice (once with Benedict Cumberbatch in the archives, once during the perfectly directed reveal) and whilst it's good to see an auteur acting with constant restraint it would also have been nice to see Alfredson cut loose a little more.

Pick your poison from the selection of generally unlikeable supporting characters (Cumberbatch, Thomas Hardy and Toby Jones have all been, rightly, mentioned as highlights), the antidote is Oldman. A world away from even his quiet and reserved Jim Gordon, Smiley is an awards-worthy creation. Watch this and, say, The Fifth Element back-to-back and you'd be hard pressed to point out the actor the two films share. It's a remarkable transformation and one which Alfredson also deserves credit for.

The title refers to the codenames given to the selection of spies who could be traitors and the only other gripe is that one of them may as well not be there. He has a handful of scenes, a smattering of lines and absolutely nothing of any importance to do whatsoever, although this too perhaps harks back to le Carré's fears of marginalisation and redundancy. These are fears which the film works hard to maintain throughout until a bizarre collection of final shots, set to music, which seem to have come from a different production altogether.

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'the fidelity and integrity that screenwriters Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan have shown in adapting le Carré's story is admirable, and as a showcase for both a gifted young director and the cream of British acting talent, the film is hard to beat' - Phil On Film


  1. How does Mr. Oldman stack up against Mr. Guinness as Smiley?? At first I had serious reservations about this being re-made. I still don't really see the point even though this version is getting good reviews.

  2. I've never seen the series so I can't claim it's one that I feel particularly aligned to. I think if you put that aside and take his performance in isolation to anything else then it is faultless but, yes, if you've seen the series and have Alec Guinness in your head I'm sure it'll effect how you read it. Would be interested in hearing what you thought if you do get to see it.

  3. I wonder if the Academy voters will be able "get" this type of performance or even be made to feel that they must be seen to get it.

    If so, nothing will be able to stop Oldman, nothing.

  4. I haven't had any inkling as to when this will reach NZ. It has of course been years since I saw the original series let alone read the novels. That is the problem with re-makes isn't it? The original actors etc will always stick in your mind no matter how good the re-make is.
    I'm an Alec Guinness fan and just can't envisage anyone upstaging him. At the time Guinness received immense acclaim for his performance as Smiley.

  5. annazed - I think they'll go for it. I think the one thing possibly stopping this is its English heritage. THE KING'S SPEECH won big last year and although that shouldn't really effect things I can see it being taken into account.

    BRENT - I've seen clips of him in the series. I'll go back and check it out one day.