Earlier this year there were gag movie posters circulating the internet that asked the question, “What if movie posters told the truth?” and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy had its title changed to Gary Oldman is a Badass in Glasses. The creator of this humorous title couldn’t have hit the nail any harder on the head, as Oldman’s performance in this film is a tour de force that rightly landed him his first Oscar nomination as an actor.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an intense dramatic espionage thriller that succeeds due to its strong storytelling structure, interesting characters and performances by all involved. There are no explosions to be found here, no major action sequences, and zero car chases. Instead viewers are treated to some wonderfully paced storytelling that weaves the present day with the past, in order to keep them current in the who’s doing what and why category. It’s also during these flashbacks that we get to see deeper into the characters and what drives them; as their present day selves are too busy watching their own backs while keeping their cards close to their chest to give us any true insight as to who they really are.
The film takes place in 1970s during the height of the Cold War years, with its focus directly on the British Secret Intelligence Service, the MI-6. The agency is run by a group of men, all led by a man named “Control” (John Hurt), who has received word that there is a mole in the upper echelon of the MI-6, but he and his right hand man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman) are both quickly relieved of their duties by their colleagues after a off the books mission to uncover the mole fails. Not long after, “Control” is found dead and the government comes to Smiley to try and sort out this mole conspiracy talk once and for all.
To do so, Smiley recruits a small team that consists of a spy with an in at the agency (War Horse‘s Benedict Cumberbatch) as well as a field man that the MI-6 has broken ties with (Tom Hardy) in order to get to the bottom of things.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is based off the novel written by John le Carre in 1974, in a time when moles and spy thrillers didn’t always go hand in hand. What also helped Carre create a story from a unique perspective is the fact that he himself spent five years with the MI-6 during a time when high ranking officials inside the organization were found out to be traitors, which caused everyone else to constantly be looking over their shoulder. This adaptation of his work, written by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Staughan, does a considerable job in managing to squeeze such a wealthy amount of information into a two-hour film. With a large supporting cast, the two managed – for the most part – to give each character a defining moment that helps explain deep down who they really are.
The pacing the story sets, along with the fine direction by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) help add a suspenseful layer to a film that’s pretty straightforward in the way it’s told. Even Oldman himself says that the story itself is quite linear, but it’s the characters that help bring it to life. And it’s those characters, along with the craftsmanship of Alfredson that gives Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy the layers it needs to catch the viewers attention and hold it from start to finish.
There isn’t much more to say about the work done by Oldman here that wasn’t said above, however, it’s quite shocking that this was his first Academy Award nomination in acting. It takes a performance like this, and the recognition that goes with it for many to truly see just how strong an actor Oldman really is, no matter how big or small the role is in the films he’s working on.
Though as strong as Oldman is, Tinker Tailor Solder Spy wouldn’t be able to remain half as entertaining if it wasn’t for the plethora of gifted actors that were placed around him as well. Hurt may not be in the film long, but the delivery he brings to his character during his short presence makes you wish he were in it longer. Cumberbatch and Hardy both play their roles incredibly well, with Hardy looking almost unrecognizable in comparison to some of his more recent work.
Those who haven’t been mentioned are mainly those who sit at the top of the MI-6 table, and one of their field ops. Those men are as follows: Toby Jones (Tinker), Colin Firth (Tailor), Ciaran Hinds (Soldier), David Dencik (Poorman) and Mark Strong, as their go to man for field work. Each of these men really brings their A-game to the part they’re playing, and really give each of the characters that –for the most part – simply sit around a table at the top floor of a building individual personalities and quirks.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a thriller that relies on story over explosions, and it delivers on that account quite well. It’s an ongoing game of who’s telling the truth, and who can you trust that will keep you guessing throughout. And even if that wasn’t the case, who can resist a film where Gary Oldman is a badass in glasses?
The sound in the film is really great, and the mix of dialogue and music balance off well, really making this a great film to listen to. The picture is brought to life through well placed lighting, and natural tones. It’s a stylistic choice that really helps give life to the themes and ideas that are ongoing throughout the film.
The special features:
There’s an audio commentary with director Tomas Alfredson and Gary Oldman, which is interesting to listen to. Oldman really delved into the part, and if there’s one perspective you want to hear throughout the entirety of the film, it’s his.
Deleted Scenes – There are a handful of deleted scenes placed on the sidelines, all of which weren’t needed and properly found themselves a home on the cutting room floor.
Interviews – There are four interviews with Oldman, Firth, Hardy and a combo in Alfredson and co-writer Straughan. Each are under 10 minutes in length, and cover a solid amount of topics in a fashion that most will find informative.
There’s also a fifth interview, which I left separate because I believe that the creators of this disc should have made it a separate feature in itself. The fifth interview is an interview with the book’s author John le Carre, and it’s extremely informative and interesting. It’s a little over 30 minutes in length, and by far the most interesting feature on the disc. It’s unfortunate that many won’t hunt it down at the bottom of the interviews list, when it should have been placed in its own section.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy First Look – This is a 13-minute featurette that sees interviews interweaved with clips of the film. It’s quite a fun, and rather quick viewing, and worth checking out by all.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an extremely well crafted espionage thriller. It focuses on the story and the characters, and because of this the tension and uncertainty of who one can trust really hits home. Highly recommended.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Directed by: Tomas Alfredson. Written by: Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan. Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch. Running time: 128 minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: March 20, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, gary oldman, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy