When you think of spy films, you might think of James Bond like movies that contain outlandish characters and out of this world spy gadgets. While those kinds of films about espionage may be the most popular of their kind, more life-like and mature spy stories will come around every once and awhile and try to leave their mark. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of those unglamorous films that will take the chance to display a more human image of spies.
Based on John Le Carré's classic novel of the same name, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy stars Gary Oldman as George Smiley. Smiley is a former member of the British secret service who was relieved of his duties, but is asked to return once the British government learns that there may be a double agent in MI-6. Smiley retakes his job and begins spying on his own colleagues for the sake of the job and national security.
Despite this film being based in a world of spies, it doesn't really focus on all of the stuff that you might expect it to. There aren't any special spy gadgets that I recall, no elaborate chase scenes and very little violence. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is essentially a psychological spy story that takes a look at betrayal more than anything else. We get to witness multiple instances of betrayal on both a political and personal level. These spies are trying to find a mole that might be lurking within the MI-6, but they also have to deal with betrayals that can cause trouble outside of their already hectic professional world.
As this stuff is going on, we see this world from the perspective of more than one source. The screen time and importance of the characters are evenly distributed enough to give the majority of the them meaning and legitimate effectiveness. Even though they were all important to the main plot, the primary source of our vision into this world comes from George Smiley.
I loved the way Gary Oldman portrayed Smiley. He presented his version of the character as a dull, disillusioned, worn out and marginalized man. His lack of personality and emotion actually added to his personality in a weird way. Smiley is a disenfranchised person and you get a sense that he doesn't have much emotion left to give. With the help of director Tomas Alfredson, Oldman displays all of these traits with relative ease.
The atmosphere and pacing is just as important as anything else when it comes to giving the film its image. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy looks good and has an old kind of appearance to it that makes it feel like you're watching a movie from the 1970's instead of 2011. The color appears to be drained out a little bit and it features a sunless, cold and dim setting that seems to fit the souls of most of the people involved. Everything is delivered in a very methodical and slow pace which fits in with the atmosphere and the personalities that we see on-screen.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy didn't pull me in as much as I hoped it would. While I understand and appreciate the subtle and low-key approach, you need to make the product a little more engaging than it was at certain points. Some of the more dramatic moments didn't play out as well due to this suppression of emotion. Those scenes would've been more impactful if a few of the actors had been a bit more personable while portraying their roles. There are a few of these scenes that had the ability to create "WOW" moments, but they sometimes feel awkward or not as poignant as they should have.
Although this movie was more than a couple of hours long I don't think it was long enough. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a good movie, but it felt too tight and it appeared obvious to me that some things were left out, compressed or just skipped over all together. Making it longer would have created the proper breathing room necessary to make the film more complete and would've given it the strength it needed to truly be great and memorable.
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Film Length: 128 minutes
Release Date: December 9, 2011 (Limited)
Distributor: Focus Features