We Love… 2011 – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

We laughed, we cried, we sneaked in our own popcorn. 2011 brought with it some memorable trips to the cinema to revel in the joy of film. And so the Film Ireland collection of filmbots look back in love and recall their favourite films of the last year in the latest installment of…

We Love… 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy

(Tomas Alfredson)

‘… the most tense and nail-biting film of 2011…’

Bryan Lloyd

A film like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy is rare in that it genuinely respects the audience’s intelligence and rewards them for it. It may not be unique, but it’s been so long that a mainstream film has managed to reward its viewers with such a captivating and intriguing plot and screenplay, it feels like it is rare. Such is the power of the screenplay, each of the actors involved were able to put out genuinely Oscar-worthy performances without compromising on the film’s grisly and somewhat uncommercial aspects.

Gary Oldman scales back his tendency to go overboard, instead giving a nuanced and insightful look into a man who spends his life corrupting and honing in on people’s weaknesses. The film, for those that have seen it, will now truly pitch-black it is in tone. Every single character is unlikable and the film paints a more realistic view of the intelligence community and its inhabitants – not an Aston Martin or snappy one-liner in sight. Here, they are riven with stress and burnt out by living lies on a daily basis.

From John Hurt’s embittered alcoholic to Mark Strong, in one of his finest performances ever, as the restrained and closeted individual who is the centrepiece of the plot, each actor in this is truly at the top of their game. The camerawork of the film and how Tomas Alfredson shoots – in his first English-speaking film – is very much European; economical and purposeful. Each scene has a direct purpose for advancing plot and character development, but without it feeling like things are being spoon-fed. Indeed, the set design is fantastically genuine, too. Nothing seems kitsch or there for nostalgic purposes; much like everything else in the film, it has a specific goal to achieve and it does so with elegance and style. There are no massive explosions or love interests, no death-defying set pieces or breathless chases – yet Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy gives us the most tense and nail-biting film of 2011.



Cinema Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy




DIR: Tomas Alfredson • WRI: Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo • DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema • ED: Dino Jonsäter • DES: Dino Jonsäter • CAST: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Ciarán Hinds

Featuring an exhausting list of top-class British actors that would make a Harry Potter film feel inadequate in comparison, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a stylish espionage thriller in the classic Cold War vein. Based on the novel by John Le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy eschews the action and gadgetry of the post-Casino Royale/Mission: Impossible generation of spy movies in favour of pacing, tension and intrigue; and will find an excited audience amongst those who long for the days of The Manchurian Candidate and Klute.

The unbeatable Gary Oldman plays the iconic, grim-faced spymaster George Smiley, recently forced into retirement from the ‘Circus’, the epicentre of British intelligence. But when evidence arises that his ailing and increasingly paranoid former boss, Control (John Hurt), may have been right about a Soviet mole infiltrating the highest offices of the Circus, Smiley is called in to smoke the mole out.

The suspects, codenamed ‘Tinker’, ‘Tailor’, ‘Soldier’ and ‘Poor Man’ after an old English nursery rhyme, are the arrogant but arguably incompetent new Circus boss Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), ladies’ man Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), gruff but cunning Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) and prissy, watchful Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). Smiley, aided by young spies Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy, must uncover which of his former colleagues is leaking vital intelligence to the mysterious Russian operative known only as Karla, without any of the cabal finding out.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy will come under scrutiny as it has been shot before; as a BBC miniseries starring Alec Guinness as Smiley back in 1979. Over six-hours long, that series allowed the tension and intrigue to slowly build and boil over. Here, the pace moves slowly but ceaselessly, giving the audience very little time to take in the huge amount of information flowing between agents and interrogators.

However, shot by the visionary Tomas Alfredson, who redefined the arthouse horror film with the exemplary Let the Right One In, this film adaptation has a visual flair that utterly eclipses the sterile look of the miniseries. Alfredson and his team filter the colour of the ’70s through an oppressive grey, capturing the rotten heart of the espionage world in an otherwise vibrant era. Two missions, to Budapest and Istanbul, provide the film’s most visually inspired moments, as well as its greatest thrills.

As Smiley, Oldman gives one of his greatest performances, easily rivaling that of Guinness, making the character a more formidable adversary while still showing his weaknesses, particularly in the area of his troubled private life. Still soaring from his Oscar® win, Firth has enough to play with here and gets a number of the film’s best lines. The rest of the cast are largely strong, though Toby Jones feels strangely miscast, and fans of Hollywood upstart Tom Hardy will be disappointed he has little opportunity to show off his skills. The real revelation here is Mark Strong as bitter, double-crossed field agent Jim Prideaux – the undeniably typecast actor here shines as a character of tragic and unexpected depth.

An expertly made thriller, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy feels undermined slightly by its rushed pace – one can’t help but feel that somewhere near the midpoint between this feature and the ’70s miniseries is the perfect spy tale. Fans of the book will likely be disappointed at some of the greater detail and character development that has been excised, not to mention one hugely memorable (and oft-quoted) line of dialogue that is nowhere to be found here.

Intriguing and intense, this will not please all, but it is a memorable, finely acted and wonderfully stylised spy drama from an emerging master of cinema.

David Neary

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is released on 16th September 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy– Official Website