Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Tom Hardy
A clandestine meeting at an outdoor cafe in Budapest ends with panicked shooting. Some cobblestones away, a baby still strains to suck on his mother’s breast, even as the blood begins to trickle from the hole in her head.
Unexpected, moving, and memorable scenes like this punctuate the atmospheric gray fabric of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Set in the Cold War era, the film is about uncovering the identity of a double agent in the British secret intelligence service, MI6. It is directed by a Swede, Tomas Alfredson, and is an adaptation of the eponymous spy-thriller novel by John Le Carré. It stars some of Britain’s most eminent actors, including Toby Jones, John Hurt, Colin Firth, and Gary Oldman.
The plot unfolds amidst smoking, tea drinking, rooftop rendezvous, and chilly morning swims. There is a sense of understated drama, with hints at hidden, shadowy subplots. The director maintains this, even as he intersperses the general solemnity with moments of poignant tenderness, sudden violence, and the introduction of colorful characters such as the ruffian Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) and the racy Connie Sachs (Kathy Burke). He also provides light relief by showing a delightful attention to detail. For example, in one scene, the buzzing annoyance of a fly breaks the silence of a terse car drive; in another, the suggestive chopping of meat startles an anxious agent. There is even a scene in which an absurd Lenin Santa sings the Soviet National Anthem at an office Christmas party.
The protagonist, George Smiley (Oldman), is depicted as an austere and rather melancholic character, whose wife has left him and who has been removed from his position at MI6. He is brought out of this forced retirement to smoke a mole out of “the Circus,” and does so with the help of a levelheaded younger agent, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch). By examining stolen documents and interviewing dismissed and discredited agents, Smiley unravels the treacherous scheme and identifies the “mole” from a list of suspects, who are code-named “tinker,” “tailor,” “soldier,” and “poorman,” in reference to a British children’s rhyme.
The first words uttered in this film are: “Trust no one. Especially not in the mainstream.” If those in the mainstream do not rate this film highly, I would agree — don’t trust them. Gripping story telling, a touch of humor, a strong cast, and creative cinematography make this a wonderful movie, and it’s one you won’t want to miss.