Unlike so many thrillers these days, with their acrobatics and explosions and loudness, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy relies on slowly-unraveled plot and quiet intensity for its tension. Based on the 1974 John le Carré novel of the same name, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is an engrossing film, full of nuanced performances, tightly woven plot points, and beautiful cinemotography. The film follows forcibly-retired intelligence agent George Smiley (Gary Oldham) as he attempts to uncover a mole amongst his old colleagues at “The Circus” (aka British Intelligence), while also dealing with the ramifications, personal and professional, of a lifetime of service as a spy.
Told partially through flashbacks, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy fully captures the 70’s of Great Britain and Eastern Europe, with its all white male cast (albeit a very talented all white male cast), very few women, lots and lots of smoking, and, in the case of normally quite dashing Gary Oldham, authentic costume repleat with the era’s horrible round plastic glasses. In fact, practically every aspect of the film feeds into its tension, whether part of the larger mystery or not: the homoeroticism of brotherhood mixed with the machicsmo of the time; the contradiction of having a private life without putting loved ones in danger; the investment in a world view that muddles right and wrong in the name of good versus evil. At its core, however, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a film about mattering as an individual. Mattering to your legacy, to your love, to your country, to yourself… Unfortunately, for Smiley and his compatriots at “The Circus,” how one chooses to matter can have dire consequences.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a spectacular human drama, a tightly-wound thriller, a beautifully shot film, and should definitely not be missed. I give it 4 out of 4 mittens. That’s a mitten for each paw, folks!
The Oscars: Best Actor Nominee (Gary Oldham)
Gary Oldham went “ugly” for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, as they say. I mean, really, those glasses… Couple his beleagured face with his slightly broken demeanor, clothed in generic polyestor suits, and Oldham disappears into his portrayal of George Smiley. While his normal swagger might seem more fitting for a spy as traditionally captured in film, Oldham’s George Smiley is a different kind of intelligence agent: instead of bravodo, he oozes quiet intelligence, meticulousness, and, most importantly in a film about traitors, integrity. Smiley, and Oldham’s performance, are the heart of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Although George Clooney or Jean Dujardin seem to be in a two-way race for Best Actor statues this awards season, I wouldn’t be surprised if Oldham pulls off an upset at the Oscars. Oldham has never even been nominated by the Academy, despite being lauded by critics and fellow thespians. Perhaps this year, he’ll not only get the accolades his previous work deserved but also win for a truly fantastic performance in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
To see my full Oscars coverage, visit my Oscars page.