Based on the best-selling John le Carré novel (which has already been turned into a TV miniseries), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is an interestingly intertwining espionage film that delights in focusing on the hunt rather than the end result. It looks as though it was shot in the ’70s – which is appropriate, as this is the time period in which it is set – and features an amazing cast, led by the always-intriguing Gary Oldman as MI6 spy George Smiley.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is set mostly in 1973 London, during the height of the Cold War. The weather outside is gray and wet, and this definitely lends to the weighty feeling of what’s going on in the film; which begins when a man named Control (John Hurt), the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, otherwise known as MI6 and nicknamed “The Circus”), is planning a mission in Budapest which goes terribly wrong. When Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), the agent he sent abroad, is supposedly killed in action, Control is forced out of the SIS; and Smiley, his esteemed counterpart and expert spy in his own right, is forced into early retirement as a result.
Before his ousting, Control made it known that he believed one of the agency’s key players (Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds, David Dencik) was a Russian mole, secretly trading information with the Soviets. When The Circus receives a phone call from a rogue agent, Ricki Tar (Tom Hardy), claiming he has vital information about a possible mole, a couple of higher-ups at SIS begin to take Control’s theory seriously. They decide to rehire Smiley to help locate the leak within The Circus.
Once Smiley is on board, the film slows its pace, bouncing between the current investigation in London (Smiley is helped by Peter Guillam, played by Benedict Cumberbatch) as well as events which have unfolded in Budapest and Turkey in the recent past. We see Smiley go out for a swim nearly every morning; and then there’s tension as he tries to learn what he can about the ill-fated Budapest mission, and who in MI6 is a possible traitor.
Even though the film is slow, and somewhat confusing at times, it does manage to lead the audience on an intriguing – and sometimes evasive – hunt; which proves to be more rewarding then the end result. This is a testament to not only le Carré’s novel, but also the adept direction of Tomas Alfredson, who also helmed 2008’s Let the Right One In.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy releases in theaters Dec. 9.