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The Independent Critic

Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Ciaran Hinds
Tomas Alfredson
John le Carre (Novel), Peter Straughan, Bridget O'Connor
Rated R
127 Mins.
Focus Features
Audio Commentary w/David Fincher; "Making of" Featurette

 "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" Review 
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There are American spy thrillers.

American spy thrillers have ample amounts of action, an abundance of special effects, frequent violence and, with only a few exceptions, are devoid of anything resembling plot or character development.

Then, there are British spy thrillers.

British spy thrillers are, by nature, more mysteriously evolving and intelligent in design. In a British spy thriller, for the most part, dialogue is of the utmost importance and attention to detail is paramount. British spy thrillers may very well have action sequences, but they are birthed out of the story rather than existing as the story. While character development may be secondary, in a British spy thriller there usually exists layer upon layer of conflict, story line and intrigue.

Which one do you prefer?

Based upon a novel by John le Carre of such complexity that its previous artistic incarnation came as a mini-series, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an intelligent, compelling and multi-layered spy thriller that features Gary Oldman's best performance in years as Smiley, a retired agent of the British Intelligence Service, the "Circus," who is called back into action to find a Soviet mole who has infiltrated the upper echelon of the "Circus."

Oldman has always been a bit of a hit-and-miss actor, capable of cinematic greatness while also being capable of chewing vast amounts of scenery then coming back for seconds. He works beautifully, however, with director Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In), who manages to create a compelling film despite being forced to greatly reduce material that felt compressed even within the six-hour miniseries. It unquestionably helped Alfredson to be working from a clear and concise script by the husband-and-wife team of Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O'Connor, whose work manages to embody both the substance and spirit of its source material without ever feeling too slight or, adversely, too overwhelming.

This is not to say that there's nothing overwhelming about the film. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film best experienced when you're able to completely focus your attention on it and, yes, you can practically guarantee that if you leave even for only a few minutes you'll definitely miss something of major importance.

In a film where the key character utters nary a word for the film's first 15 minutes, it's important to note that virtually every moment of screen time matters - every word, every look, every gesture and every camera shot. Alfredson does a stellar job of capturing the full spectrum of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by never letting go of any of the details, a fine directorial achievement indeed.

I was a guest on a local film radio show just yesterday. One of my tasks was to attempt to adequately review Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a film so complex that it practically demands two viewings before even attempting such a task. To describe the plot would be simple, but to describe the actual film is a gargantuan task. The film is a virtual Who's Who of intelligent cinema, mostly but not exclusively British. The head of the Service, known by the name Control, is played perfectly by John Hurt with such a sense of melancholy that you might thing you've stumbled into a Von Trier film. It is Control who believes there is a mole, with his primary suspects being Smiley, Percy (Toby Jones), Toby (David Dencik), Roy (Ciaran Hinds) and Bill Haydon (Colin Firth). Control sends Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), one of the agency's scalp hunters to handle a messy job that is subsequently botched with Control, Smiley and Prideaux all being fired.

The story that follows twists and turns, yet does so not based upon special effects nor violence, though there are certainly some scenes that allow the film to earn its R-rating. Rather, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is so intricately mapped out that even in those moments where you've already figured out what's going to happen you find yourself completely glued to the screen anyway.

The first in le Carre's Karla trilogy, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is partly based upon the case of Kim Philby, a British spy who was recruited by the Soviets in the 1930's and who also blew the cover of le Carre himself, who was born David John Moore Cornwell and served as a British spy.

It's truly no wonder his books are so intricately drawn out and masterfully detailed.

To continue telling you more would be an injustice and, perhaps, a complete waste. By now, you've likely figured out if this is a film for you and, by all means, if spy thrillers are films you enjoy then this film will likely be a 2011 highlight. Featuring a performance by Gary Oldman destined to be highly recognized throughout awards season, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a Focus Features release just entering limited nationwide release this weekend before heading for wider release in the coming weeks.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic