The seventies are making a comeback in fashion, and now in the cinema as well. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the latest seventies-style film to hit the big screen. The master of espionage, John le Carr’s, book had previously been adapted into a mini-series in 1979 starring Alec Guinness, but this is the first time it has been adapted to film. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, known for his vampire film Let The Right One In, directs this high-quality Cold War thriller.
The film starts with a bang even before the opening credits when intelligence agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) is shot in a cafe in Budapest on his quest for a Soviet mole. A year passes and we meet George Smiley (Gary Oldman) a former British intelligence officer who comes out of retirement at the request of his former boss (John Hurt) to uncover the infiltrator. There are five suspects, given the codenames Tinker, Tailor, Soldier and Poor Man, with Smiley himself being the Spy.
As he tries to uncover the double-agent, Smiley reminisces about the past through a series of flashbacks. He is aided by Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), Connie Sachs (Kathy Burke) a former head of personnel; and by Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy), an agent who has his own demands: he wants to be reunited with his Russian lover Irina, a military attaché’s wife who has given him vital information about the mole.
A lot of work has been put into this film, and it shows. The cinematography is exceptional, the style of the period is well portrayed and the Alberto Iglesias score, which brings to mind Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for Inception, sets the right mood.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s greatest strength is its first-class cast. Gary Oldman is a chameleon of an actor, as convincing as George Smiley, an older man, as he is as Sirius Black or Commissioner Gordon. The supporting cast are no second string either: high profile actors Tom Hardy and Colin Firth are excellent as always. The absence of women is very apparent, though a feminist poster can be seen late in the film. There is however one important female character Irina (Svetlana Khodchenkova), Tarr’s lover. The Russian actress is a newcomer but has a quality that promises a bright future for her.
The film’s slow pace works well, giving it the feel of Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, with the majority of the movie being a puzzle that only forms a solid picture in the end. But while there’s not a lot of humour to be found, and its pacing and highly complex plot will not be for everyone, for fans of the period and the genre, Tinker Tailor comes highly recommended