Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
By Scott Elliott
January 6, 2012
The spy movie has developed into an important and popular genre. James Bond, Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt have proven to be excellent sources for an entertaining film, but all of those films have one thing in common: They are fictional. Not just the stories themselves, but most aspects of their protagonists' lives. The average spy (and yes, they do exist) does not date models, drive expensive sports cars, get in fights every time he or she goes out or receive exploding messages. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a spy movie, but it has nothing in common with James Bond or his successors. Tinker Tailor depicts what the life of a spy is like when the money and gear of the Impossible Missions Force isn't at your disposal. It is a realistic spy movie—no car chases, no fancy gadgets and little action. Rather, the action primarily takes place in conversations.
Tinker Tailor hinges on the suspense of figuring out the identity of a mole in the British intelligence agency, MI6. Although the cast is not entirely comprised of household names, they are a veteran group that deliver stellar performances. Unlike other spy movies that rely on big stunts and elaborate action sequences Tinker Tailor is dependent upon the ability of its actors (Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch). Most notably, Gary Oldman stars as George Smiley, one of the top officials at MI6 who is dismissed and then brought back to try to find the mole. Oldman is guaranteed to receive an Oscar nod for his wholehearted performance. He does what few actors are able to do—completely becoming the character and making you forget you are watching an actor at all. The acting and skillful direction of Tomas Anderson is worth the price of admission.
These layered performances are helped by the rich and realistic look of the film. There are no grandiose scenic views or elaborate stage sets in this film. Instead, the film's beauty lies in making it look like a classic 1970s British spy thriller. In fact, as I was watching the movie, I completely forgot I was even watching a modern film.
Tinker Tailor is not without its faults. While I found the lack of action sequences and rapidly switching camera angles refreshing, other moviegoers may become bored by its lengthy conversations. The story, based upon a 1974 novel written by John le Carré, an actual British spy, can also become confusing at times. (In 1979, the novel was also developed into a seven-part miniseries for British television, which I assume would offer more clarity on the few key aspects the film seems to be missing.) However, if you stick with it, most loose ends will be tied up and you are left with a rewarding movie experience. Mission accomplished.
Scott Elliott is a minister living in La Grange, TX, with his wifeand son. He graduated from Oklahoma State University and is nowattending Austin Graduate School of Theology.