originally published in The 405. If nothing else, see this for Gary Oldman's fantastic performance.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a four word justification for the existence of that most onerous of Hollywood trends: the remake. However, unlike other adaptations of novels from the Cold War era, the story hasn’t been modernized the way the Bourne films have been. Director Tomas Alfredson does not set out to make ham-fisted metaphors about the state of contemporary intelligence, he focuses on telling a tight, old-fashioned spy tale.
Like the original, this version of TTSS assembles the finest British actors working today, with a killer cast including Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds, John Hurt, and Gary Oldman in what must surely be his finest performance to date. But lest you think this is only features the British acting royalty, the young Turks are well represented by Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch.
In structure, the film closely resembles a typical televised serial: first we meet our cast of characters, then we look closely at each one, then the endgame is revealed. This serial form of storytelling proved surprisingly effective, as we were allowed to observe George Smiley (Gary Oldman) slowly peel back the layers of these spy games, moving ever closer to the mole.
However, the slow pace led to one problem. The identity of the mole becomes clear to the discerning viewer quite early within the film. It’s a credit to the director, however, that this didn’t actually spoil the film.
I’m not certain if it took Alfredson ten minutes to find his rhythm in the film, or whether it took me ten minutes to adjust to it. The pacing is measured; a surprising number of shots lasted ten seconds or longer (believe it or not, I was counting). In the first ten minutes of the film, this felt overly languorous, almost as if Alfredson were privileging the film’s attention to period detail over the actual story, but that feeling subsides, and the lingering shots on lampshades move to careful close-ups of our actors’ faces.
As Smiley navigates his way through the top members of The Circus, we revel in his close examination of the acrobatics, clowning and gamesmanship that are part and parcel of Cold War intelligence. Try to see it in the theatre if you can, so you can bathe in its period atmospherics.