Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I have always felt that the level of rampant suspicion and mistrust during the Cold War has been lost on those that did not personally witness it (myself included). Luckily, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sticks to realism instead of bowing to the typical Hollywood spy movie mold. This is not your run-of-the-mill Bourne or Mission Impossible secret agent action blockbuster. TTSS is a nonstop psychological thriller focusing more on information collection than who can maim the most nameless goons.


George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is brought out of retirement to help find out who could be a mole within British MI6. He quickly realizes that the last few years of his service were not as he had been led to believe. From there we are taken on a ride through a web of cover-ups and deceit so thick you work just as hard as Smiley to pay attention to details. Like most espionage films, details are what make TTSS great. The camera work is amazing, especially in the beginning. There is a focus on the minute details that give the Circus (MI6) offices the most realistic feel imaginable. The sets and general attitude of the entire film feels authentic to the last file cabinet. Thankfully, this is made evident early on allowing you to focus on the story later when it matters.

Of course, a movie with heavyweights Oldman, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Colin Firth and more will have a plethora of excellent performances that do not give any inclination as to who is the mole. The real winners are Oldman and Benedict Cumberbatch. Oldman initially has little dialogue and remains a stoic veteran simply watching as he is forced into retirement. Once Smiley is called upon, Oldman transforms through tone rather than visual emotion. His voice becomes stern and resolute, making his decisions and orders even more important.

Many of Smiley’s orders are given to Peter Guillam (Cumberbatch), a fresh face amongst the MI6 experienced simply following orders. He is under the most strain throughout the investigation due to his intact employment in MI6 and collaboration with Smiley. Cumberbatch does well showing the inevitable nerves anyone would feel if asked to spy on colleagues and friends. His chances are rare, but when asked to portray the strain placed on Peter, Cumberbatch delivers.

TTSS’s emphasis on real tension is one that makes it great (in the same vein as The Hurt Locker). Director Tomas Alfredson places a large amount of pressure on his audience. We are given the task of following the story, feeling the tension and formulating our own opinions or guesses. Unlike most movies centered on an investigation, TTSS does not include the line of dialogue that serves as an obvious clue, or a close up of a condemning piece of evidence. TTSS believes in the idea of a smart audience and wants you to join in the chase.

There are a few moments where the accents are difficult to understand, but not enough to affect an understanding of the film. TTSS is not for everyone. It starts slowly and does not pick up until at least halfway. Yet, for those that can pay attention, the payoff of seeing what being a spy during the Cold War actually meant is totally worth it.

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