Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy begins with a moderately thrilling covert spy mission gone awry, the details of which are left hazy and unexplained, which is a fairly accurate way to describe the film in general. Purposefully paced and laboriously detailed, Tinker Tailor is a film that doesn’t concern itself with the often-useless art of explanation; its heart is in the captivation. Blink here or lose attention there, and you’re likely to be gone.
Usually, this is precisely my kind of film, one that tells its story with zero exposition, a curvy narrative and is backed by stellar performances. Tinker Tailor, however, never managed to grab me the way most moody thrillers do. I kept hoping it would be more like Syriana, not a somewhat more accomplished Good Sheppard.
Best to start with the film’s plot, which was by far its most lacking aspect.
After Agent Prideaux (Mark Strong) is killed in the aforementioned mission, the leader of the super-secret spy organization he worked for, who is known only as Control (John Hurt) is forced out, along with his right hand man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman). After Control passes away, Smiley is recruited by a British official to find a mole within his old organization. If it seems like I’m skimming on details, well, it isn’t from lack of trying. The truth is, I didn’t really have a clue what was happening during extended sequences in the film. The British official that hires Smiley – no idea who he was… an aide for the Prime Minister, maybe. The good looking guy who shows up with details on who the mole is – no idea how he knows what he knows.
All of this, mind you, is done on purpose. Director Tomas Alfredson (who directed the similarly paced Let the Right One In) is interested in throwing you directly into this back-alley world, causing you to play catch-up. Problem is, when there’s this much catching up to do, one can lose interest rather quickly.
I’m being a little too harsh. While Tinker Tailor has its plot faults, damn near everything else about it is executed seamlessly. The film’s moody, grey look suits the material exceptionally well, while the assembled cast is a who’s-who of talented British characters actors including Strong, Hurt, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Firth, Simon McBurney, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, and the man himself, Gary Oldman.
I am a huge admirer of Gary Oldman’s, and it is great to see him headline a film at this stage of his career, but I must admit – with subtle heartbreak – that the film simply doesn’t live up to the standards Oldman has set for himself. Don’t get me wrong, Oldman is perfect as Smiley, but the material gives him nothing to do. In short, I now see why Oldman is being left off of award’s shortlists. (Point in fact, I'm not entirely sure I would add George Smiley to Oldman's most essential roles.)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film that would benefit greatly from multiple viewings, I just simply don’t have the need to. Dark, subtle and moody are typically my game, but now that I’ve let the film digest for a few days, no lasting impressions remain. B-