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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Slow and steady, coming in almost first place

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - Theater Review
Release Date: 12/16/2011 - MPAA Rating: R
Clacker Rating: 4 Clacks

'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' is an excellent Cold War thriller, but its slow pace and careful style leave it feeling like it's trying hard to be something else.

When the shadow of destruction looms over your head and you don’t know whom to trust … perhaps not even yourself, what can you do? When you find out someone has been leaking vital secrets to the enemy, what will you do if it turns out to be … you? Or better yet, someone you already despise?

The twisting, serpentine tale of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, an adaptation of the 1970’s spy novel by John le Carré (read my exclusive interview with director Tomas Alfredson and star Gary Oldman about their philosophy of telling a Cold War story in modern times), begins with the capture of agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) in Hungary — an intelligence failure that forces the head of British Intelligence, Control (John Hurt) to retire alongside deputy George Smiley, played by Gary Oldman (Leon: The Professional, The Dark Knight, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). Quick to replace him are ambitious Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) with deputy Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), and Smiley is out of the game, it would seem.

But when another agent, Ricki Tarr, played by Tom Hardy (Inception, Star Trek: Nemesis), reveals that there is a mole in the organization, Smiley is brought back from retirement to find the leak — that is, if there really is one at all. Aided by young agent Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch), Smiley must navigate the labyrinthine world of spycraft in the middle of the Cold War. The movie alternates between showing snippets of the past, how things led to this point … little clues and pieces in the puzzle of the film. We see seductions and betrayals, sadness and illicit affairs — and even a spot of torture.

This is the sort of movie that is filled with depth and care, meaning you absolutely must pay attention constantly. But if you do, you are rewarded by seeing how it all came together brilliantly. The dialogue is sparse but meaningful, used to great effect when necessary. But the acting is a different, wonderful story.

The movie is a master class on acting, showing new and experienced performers at utter brilliance. Subtlety and minor facial expressions are the order of the day. From the weary old school experience of John Hurt, to the nervous energy of Toby Jones, to the smug arrogance of Colin Firth, everyone acquits themselves fantastically. The relative newcomers are also great, with Benedict Cumberbatch showing a different side from his frenetic work in the BBC series Sherlock, and Tom Hardy throwing in yet another solid, charismatic performance. But Gary Oldman is unquestionably the subtle star of this movie, and his work as nearly a silent character while conveying such significant emotion is great to behold.

It may be hard to get into Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy — it is a dense machine of interlocking gears, and it does require actually thinking about something. It is perhaps … too slow than it needs to be. It might have been better suited as two movies, in point of fact. But if you can handle something that starts like the proverbial tortoise but basically wins in the end, don’t miss it.

Editor’s note: For another perspective on this movie, check out Dan Meier’s review.



Photo Credit: Studio Canal

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