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WGUC Reviews

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Studio Canal
Rated R
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas


It’s nice to see a film of intelligence and craftsmanship among the box office hits of late. Such is the case with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. This latest incarnation of John LeCarre’s cold war spy novel is well-directed by Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson, who gained world-wide attention from his stylish vampire film Let The Right One In.

If you expect to see another Bourne or Bond, then be forewarned there are no shootouts, car chases, or spectacular set pieces. This is a story of the grunt work of spying, much like LeCarre’s The Spy who Came In From The Cold. In fact, Tinker, Tailor surprised me by not being shot in black-and-white, since it is set in the early seventies and has a bleak atmospheric feel best expressed in monochrome. However, the use of muted colors manages to keep thoughts of the splashy, action-filled spies at bay.

Gary Oldman gives a career-best performance as George Smiley, an underling for an unnamed British espionage agency who has a monochrome personality. He rarely expresses emotion, although shows it in his face and eyes. He is the perfect civil servant... loyal, thorough, and dependable. John Hurt plays “Control,” the headman of the agency who runs things and hands out assignments, and is just about out of time. The rest of the stellar cast includes the likes of last year’s Oscar winner Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, and Benedict Cumberbatch, who was so good in last years National Theatre production of Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein. It’s a dream cast for a film like this and director Alfredson makes the most of the talent at his disposal.

As to the plot, that’s hard to say. Since I had never read the novel, nor seen the original 1979 mini-series on PBS which starred Sir Alec Guinness, it was hard to keep all the characters straight, and also to figure out who was doing what to whom, and why. The mini-series was a huge hit in England and the States on television, but it was also five hours long, shown in 60-minute episodes. The feature version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is 127 minutes. That’s a lot to absorb in one sitting, especially since judicious cutting must have been done to get the story and characterization down to a manageable length.

But don’t let that sway you from seeing the film. If you have read the novel, or seen the mini-series, or both, it will be much easier for you. In fact, after thinking about it, I should probably see it a second time in order to get more out of it, as I did feel rather lost at times. But if you enjoy first-class filmmaking, or are a LeCarre fan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy should be your cup of tea. Spy-wise.

The R-rated Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is now revealing secrets at the AMC Newport, Esquire Theatre, Showcase Springdale, Regal Deerfield and the Rave Cinemas in West Chester, Florence, and Milford.


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