Before Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy leaves the theaters, you will be gravely denied a cinematic privilege to watch a stellar ensemble enact a bestseller that had also enjoyed critical acclaim as a TV miniseries starring the impeccable talent Sir Alec Guiness as George Smiley.
Regarded as a top spy novel Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), authored by John le Carré, the story focused on the duality of being an intelligence outsider and insider. The nom de plume of David John Moore Cornwell, Le Carré undoubtedly mined his Eton professor days and career in the British Foreign Service (1959-64) to craft spy thrillers many centering on the protagonist George Smiley beginning in 1961 during his stint with BFS.
Magnificently, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson coalesced the book and TV series into a coherent and captivating film. His expertise of emotional depth with minimal speech relied upon atmosphere and subtle facial expressions which recalled his work on the exquisite Let The Right One In (2008) remade for subtitle abhorrers as Let Me In (2010). Spanning generations of X, Y and Baby Boomers (and beyond), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy appeals and honors traditional filmmaking while retaining quintessential remarkable storytelling that is the backbone of any successful cinematic production.
Alfredson feeds audience members clues and incorporates flashbacks that add clarity and intrigue. Near the start, Control (John Hurt) assigns an agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Budapest. Mission’s aim is verify the nagging suspicion about a spy lurking in the Circus. For a mole to inhabit the top levels of British Intelligence known as MI6 is a Cold War nightmare. The fallout from this botched expedition smears Control’s command, and in abridged time, retirement greets him. In the same departure scene, Control removes formidable George Smiley (Gary Oldman) for clandestine purposes. Smiley’s glacial head turn to Control betrays his surprise at also leaving his post. From there under grey and blue skies outside the iron gates, Smiley entrusts a Circus employee named Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch of Steven Moffat’s Sherlock) to maintain access to the intelligence headquarters. The onion peeling begins. Alfredson’s camera peers and blocks faces to underscore the masked and panther quality of secrecy.
I shall reveal no more. It would be an injustice to intellectual entertainment for exposing additional plot threads. Instead, I emphasize how complexity and engaging puzzles unravel and confound embedded loyalties many of these men shared from prep school days. Why is one country an enemy over another? Once questions start, double agents arise to enliven the landscape.
To not award Oscar’s Best Picture to Tinker Tailor Solider Spy would be a folly.