Gary Oldman is one of the best actors on the planet. Feel free to pay homage at Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the devilishly clever film version of John le Carré’s iconic 1974 spy novel from Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, in which Oldman gives a performance that is flawless in every detail. This mind-bending thriller infuses Cold War espionage with the hot immediacy of today’s corporate treachery. Oldman plays George Smiley, a spymaster forced out of MI6 (the British Secret Intelligence Service), along with his boss (a hypnotically conniving John Hurt), for infamously botching a mission in Budapest. Alfredson stages the skullduggery for maximum suspense. Soon after, Smiley is brought back in, undercover, to ferret out a mole, a double agent selling out to the Russians. Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds and David Dencik power a dream cast as the chief suspects. Stir in a rogue agent (an explosive Tom Hardy), a youthful Smiley ally (the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch) and a former MI6 researcher (a dynamite Kathy Burke), and the movie ignites. Sex figures prominently in the spy game of manipulation. Each actor elevates the other’s game. Watching Oldman parry with the electrifying Firth or put the screws to Hardy without raising his voice is a master class in film artistry. Oldman makes us brutally aware of the emotions roiling under the unruffled surface of this anti-James Bond, showing the sudden cruelty that tilts Smiley’s moral balance until – even behind his owlish glasses – he can’t see straight. As Alfredson directs the expert script by Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor, the film emerges as a tale of loneliness and desperation among men who can never disclose their secret hearts, even to themselves. It’s easily one of the year’s best films.
Along comes this superb, engrossing, brilliantly made big screen adaptation, magnificently directed by Tomas Alfredson and adapted by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan. The film is so strong in every way, that let’s just say the Guinness version now has a worthy counterpart rather than a replacement. Set in a perfectly recreated atmosphere of 1970s, along with the accompanying dread and paranoia, this tight, hushed, intelligent and mesmerizing thriller is the polar opposite of a James Bond or Bourne action film. Gary Oldman's mild-mannered veteran spy gets charged by bureau chief John Hurt with flushing out a double agent within their ranks. Amid standout scenes and sequences staged with elegant cat-and-mouse precision by Alfredson (watch for a Christmas party scene with more than a touch of Hitchcock), Oldman sniffs out dark doings, lies and secrets among all-too-human SS colleagues played by Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Kathy Burke, Ciarán Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch and Toby Jones. Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy richly rewards with slow-burn tension and extraordinary performances, especially by Oldman, Firth, Hinds and a standout Kathy Burke. Get your cloak and dagger out of mothballs. This is easily one of the smartest, very best films of the year. 4 stars!
The key to Gary Oldman’s performance in this beautifully constructed thriller is that he’s not trying to top anyone, not even himself. Oldman is remarkable here for how little he does, for how little he has to do. Oldman’s dignity, borne of experience, is less something you can see than something you can feel. He wears his character’s regrets lightly, like a bespoke jacket, a state of being made just for him. It’s a remarkable performance. The picture overall is notable less for its complex plot than for the emotional context of each of its nested backstories-within-backstories. Director Tomas Alfredson allows each character to emerge gradually but distinctly, as if out of fog, into a fully formed human being with certain motivations and heartbreaks. The uniformly terrific ensemble cast includes Colin Firth, Tobey Jones, Ciarán Hinds, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy. Especially noteworthy is Mark Strong, as the agent who’s perhaps the most harshly tested of all; he plays the character’s desolation and determination as two sides of the same coin. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy feels both old-fashioned and modern at once. And its lovely, understated score (by Alberto Iglesias), with its whispering strings and muted trumpets, perfectly suits the movie’s palette of soft mauves and grays. This is a movie rendered in the colors of smoke, though its contours are solid and shapely, formed with the utmost care.