DVD Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy

If you were to get nearly every British character actor of note into one film, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy contains nearly every name you could think of. Based off the John le Carre novel of the same name, the film follows one of le Carre’s greatest characters as he tries to root out a double agent within British Intelligence.

George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is a retired master spy who served for years under Control (John Hurt). When Control winds up dead of a heart attack, Smiley is called upon to root out a double agent. Aided by Guillam (Benedict Cumberbach), Smiley comes down with four suspects from high within British Intelligence: Poorman (David Dencik as Toby Esterhase), Soldier (Roy Bland as played by Ciaran Hands), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) is Tailor and Tinker is Percy Alleline (Toby Jones). Smiley, operating outside the “Circus,” is the one man trusted by those on top to not be the mole. Throw in Tom Hardy and Mark Strong and you have one of best casts of British actors in a major Hollywood film.

It also happens to be an excellent film, to boot.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a more traditional spy thriller as opposed to the generic Bourne wannabes that populate the genre now. This is about the espionage games that spy agencies played with one another during the Cold War and thus moves at a slow, terse pace. Already turned into a six hour mini-series of note, the film condenses the lengthy novel into two hours and as such the novel’s length (and a number of subplots) is paired down for length purposes. But Tomas Alfredson doesn’t just eliminate big chunks of the film to make it palpable for a cinematic version; he streamlines it.

This is a very smooth film in terms of tone and pacing. Alfredson has managed to even everything out into one consistent film in spite of having a film that’s had good chunks of plot cleaved from it in order to fit a two hour running time. You wouldn’t know it based off of his version if you hadn’t read the novel or seen the mini-series; it’s a similar piece to State of Play in that regard. It’s been trimmed down from a lengthier piece but it’s been done so to the point that it’s seamless. There’s no sense that anything’ missing or that it could be expanded upon without incident.

That is what makes Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy intriguing. This is an older model of the spy film, a much slower paced thriller that doesn’t rely on big action pieces to carry it. This is about the day to day machinations of the cloak and dagger business; Alfredson is going back to the days of the spy thriller when it wasn’t just an excuse to frame an action film around it.

It doesn’t hurt that it has a brilliant performance from Gary Oldman. Rightfully nominated for an Oscar for his efforts, Oldman gives a restrained nuanced performance as Smiley. This is the type of man le Carre had in mind for this phase of Smiley in his career with British Intelligence. He has a career of cloak and dagger operations behind him, only retirement awaiting him. This isn’t a man of action; he’s a man who knows the next three moves to make and what to get from them. Oldman is hypnotic in how he underplays the role; this isn’t a part that requires a big, bravado performance. It’s in what he doesn’t do and his reactions that we find brilliance.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a brilliant spy piece worthy of a viewing by fans of the genre or those into good film.

Deleted Scenes are included but don’t add much back into the film.

There’s a First Look piece that doesn’t add much in terms of viewing the film.

A Commentary Track with Alfredson and Oldman is included as well.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a brilliant spy piece worthy of a viewing by fans of the genre or those into good film.

Focus Features presents Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Directed by Tomas Alfredson. Starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik. Written by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan based off the John le Carre novel “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” Running time: 127 minutes. Not Rated. Released on DVD: March 20, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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