Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy | Film review
Gary Oldman smokes out a double agent in this terrific Cold War spy thriller.
British spy novelist John le Carré once called his most frequent protagonist, buttoned-down intelligence officer George Smiley, the anti–James Bond. Appearing in half a dozen of the author’s books, Smiley is everything 007 is not: private, methodical, so unassuming he makes no lasting impression on anyone he encounters.
In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Tomas Alfredson’s gorgeously realized, fashionably sterile adaptation of Le Carré’s Cold War classic, Smiley is played by the great Gary Oldman, graying and bespectacled, in a performance of compelling drabness. For an actor who cut his teeth portraying bile-spewing Sid Vicious—not to mention a rogue’s gallery of cackling villains in the ’90s—Oldman has found midcareer success dialing down his energy to a low hum. His calculated understatement creeps into every quiet corner of this movie.
Ousted from British intelligence in the wake of a botched reconnaissance mission, Smiley is yanked out of retirement to help expose a Soviet mole who’s infiltrated the upper echelon of the agency. Any of his former colleagues could be the culprit, especially considering each one is played by a recognizable British character actor. Having captured the tacky decor of the early ’80s in Let the Right One In, Alfredson here replicates the bureaucratic banality of his ’70s-London milieu. What the film really evokes, though, is the cinema of that decade—an era when upscale, star-studded dramas still dared to treat viewers like adults. As densely plotted as it should be, Tinker, Tailor forgoes explosive action in favor of shadowy intrigue and the menace of the mundane. It’s the anti–James Bond spy picture.