Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Growing up, every time i heard the word Espionage or Spy Films, my mind automatically went to James Bond or even Mission Impossible franchise. Translation: gadgets, babes, actions. The characters and franchise such as Bourne, Bond, Hunt have become household names that brought in millions from the box office. In the last few years, my definition has significantly altered, James Bond remains as an example under the subcategory of hollywood blockbuster amongst the title in the espionage sub genre. One of the most significant example of a realistic, spy films are adapted from John Le Carré novels, a famed author of the espionage genre and former spy himself. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of its golden example, based on Le Carré 1974 novel of the same name, the first book of Karla Trilogy.

(Another excellent one is The Constant Gardener, reviewed by N for the second film of this month MovieCube)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor…
Rich man, Poor man, Rich man, Beggar man, Thief…

Without loud explosions, car chases, dapper suits, and bodacious babes, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy choose to strip the espionage genre down. The result is a room full weary, middle aged gentlemen and respectively inhaling their smoking pipes, nursing their brandy, or having their tea (scones optional). Having long dreary conversation about the recent incident that happened to their undercover agent in Soviet and a probable mole that infiltrate their elite, high-level British Intelligence Service. What left behind is the thriller and mystery purring under the surface, without the dose of unnecessary, high-octane adrenaline shot. Le Carré himself was a British spy, who was bertrayed by a notorious MI6 operation who were a double agent for the soviet. So we know how he definitely familiar with the subject.

Set in the early 1970s london, the movie is bathed in shades of sepia toned colors and pale lighting. George Smiley (Gary Oldman), recently retired from his position as MI6 in the British Intelligence Service. As he was doing his best to adjust to a life outside the secret service, he was brought out of the retirement to investigate a claim from Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy), a disgraced agent with information concerning a mole at the heart of the service. Smiley manage to narrow his suspicions to four suspects, all of which are experienced, highly-skilled agent, working at the heart of the circus (a nickname for the British Intelligence). The suspects are code-named, ‘Tinker’ is Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), ‘Tailor’ is Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), ‘Soldier’ for Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds), and Poorman for Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). The Beggar man, Smiley himself, must investigate his own colleagues assisted by the help from Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch).

The title ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ are taken from old english children’s rhyme, Tinker Tailor. In a sense, i feel like Smiley is like the child who tried to unravel the strings to find the traitor or put the pieces of puzzles together. The plot unravel through series of flashbacks from the recounts of events through the interviews of different people. I found this to be the most engrossing element, might be because of the rashomon-esque effect it tried to achieve. The said tension simmers quietly under the surface. Perhaps too quietly. Combined with the slow burning pace that the film set, i feel it deserve a little bit of panache. But that was just my complain. The slowness and the quietness demands a whole lot of the viewers attention, so watching the film in the right mood and setting is a must. The set design and cinematography actually become the tool to put emphasis to the suspense element of the film, most evident in the heightened paranoia i felt when i empathize with Guillam as he tried to smuggle an information out of a high level security data vault.

A film is only as great as the actors of the film. Alfredson cast a strong ensemble of actors, headed by Oldman as George Smiley, Smiley character is personalizing an old proverb in my country, ‘air tenang menghanyutkan’ (still water, runs deep). Smiley appeared passively pensive before revealing that behind his seemingly harmless facade, he’s the most masterful, most dangerous, almost ruthless yet level-headed agent in the room. In his silence, Smiley bellows his existence in volumes, showing the level of mastery that Oldman possess as an actor. The supporting actors was good too especially from Cumberbatch, although i feel slightly underwhelmed by Firth and Hardy performances.

Producer Eric Fellner stated that he’s working on a sequel, although it is still unclear if it’s gonna be based on the next two books in the Karla trilogy or not. I read from an article that Le Carré thought the 1979 BBC television adaptation of the book was a perfection. And people who watched the series actually thought that version was better at capturing the essence of Le Carré cold war, espionage trilogy. Which got me curious! I hope i can get my hand on the series, so i can do a comparative review of the material. All in all, even stripped down from the glitz and glamour of Bond, i found Smiley delivers a masterful suspense, which is also a testament of the strength of Gary Oldman. It’s a hard film to digest, but once you’re in the game, i think you’d be mesmerized by the Circus.


GENRE Crime, Espionage, Thriller
DIRECTOR Tomas Alfredson | PRODUCER Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo | WRITER Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan | MUSIC Alberto Iglesias | CINEMATOGRAPHER Hoyte van Hoytema | EDITOR Dino Jonsäter | STUDIO StudioCanal, Karla Films, Paradis Films, Kinowelt Filmproduktion, Working Title Films, Canal+, CinéCinéma | DISTRIBUTOR StudioCanal | COUNTRY United Kingdom | RELEASE December 9, 2011 | RUNNING TIME 127 minutes | BUDGET $ 21 million
STARRING Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Mark Strong, Ciáran Hinds

All Pictures taken from IMDb |  Official Website

This post is a part of 2013 August’s MovieCube.


7 thoughts on “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

  1. Good review. Very moody and effective, however, I feel like I may need to give this one a re-watch after I choke down a Red bull and some adder-all.

    • Thanks Dan. I think mood is key when you wanna watch something. Even tho I enjoy slow paced film this film slowness and quietness made the film all that harder for me too.

  2. I was looking forward to watch this film but when I watched it, I almost fell asleep. I’m all for realism and mood but would it hurt to make the film a bit more exciting? after all it’s about espionage not about a bunch of old people rambling on for hours…oh wait.

    • Hey, different folks different strokes :) found those dialogues to be the source of suspense and thriller instead. Maybe its just not work for you :3

  3. Pingback: Monthly Digest: 2013 August | kinema kinema to karamel

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