Perhaps one of the most overlooked films this awards season was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a masterful adaptation of John le Carre’s intricate, complex and brilliant spy novel. While it earned stellar reviews from critics, the awards weren’t as favorable and neither was the box office. Now that the film is on Blu-Ray, it’s time to re-visit director Tomas Alfredson‘s excellent spy thriller and see whether Gary Oldman really did get screwed out of that Oscar.
The plot of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is confusing, to say the least. It’s both perplexing and cryptic and requires you to pay attention to each and every scene. It’s a carefully plotted story that is full of intrigue and mystery and those of you with patience will be rewarded by the end.
In 1973, an undercover agent named Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) learns of a mole in MI6, the British intelligence. Control (John Hurt), the head of the Circus, a division of the British intelligence, learns of this and narrows the suspects down to five individuals: Percy Alleline, whom Control codenames “Tinker” (Toby Jones); Bill Haydon, dubbed “Tailor” (Colin Firth); Roy Bland, “Soldier” (Ciarán Hinds); Toby Esterhase, “Poorman” (David Dencik); and George Smiley, “Beggarman” (Gary Oldman).
To weed out the mole, Control sends agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) on a mission which ends in tragedy. The aftermath results in Control and Smiley being booted from the Circus. One year later news comes to light that the mole is still active and Smiley is approached to help track him down.
It doesn’t sound too hard to follow but I promise you that upon your first viewing, no matter how closely you watch, you’ll be struggling to figure out what exactly is going on. It won’t be until the end of the film that you finally get a grasp on everything, that is if you even do end up figuring it all out.
That perhaps is the only complaint I can lodge here. Between the incredibly complicated story and the spy jargon that’s continuously thrown around, this is a very tough movie to follow and that alone may turn many viewers off. Flashbacks are also present, which make things even more confusing. This is a film that demands your attention for every second of its runtime. Turn away even for a minute and you’ll be lost, pay attention though and you’ll be treated to a gripping and captivating thriller.
Subtlety is the name of the game here. Loud shootouts, witty one liners, rocking explosions and frantic car chases are things better left for the Bourne series, this is more of a silent spy movie. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a far cry from anything resembling James Bond. There’s no glamour or glitz here, this is a realistic spy film that feels more authentic than the usual titles we get in the genre. Mind games and deception are the only weapons here, no crazy gadgets or heavy artillery. There is very little action in the film and many scenes may feel like they have nothing going on in them. Mark my words though, every scene is constructed that way for a reason.
Alfredson translates the understated and muted approach of Carré’s story to the screen quite well and due to this, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy may have a hard time finding a mainstream audience. Like I said above, this is not your typical spy film, it is far more patient and methodical. The director opts to do away with exposition and action and instead chooses to go the route of smartly constructed mis-en-scene. Alfredson masterfully creates a heavy sense of tension in almost every scene, even those that are mostly silent.
The period setting is also re-created in a stunningly authentic fashion, with everyone on the production team doing their best to bring the 1970’s setting to life. From the costumes to the set design, everything here looks authentic.
Driving the film is Gary Oldman, whose incredibly understated performance is nothing short of perfect. It’s commanding and his use of body language is absolutely compelling. Smiley is very quiet and reserved and Oldman plays up the subtleties and lets us into Smiley’s mind like no one else, not even Alec Guiness (who played Smiley in the BBC mini-series) could. Oldman’s stillness and silence is absorbing and at times, you can’t help but to be mesmerized by his remarkable, measured and intelligent performance. To make a character like Smiley so darn engaging is a tough task indeed but Oldman pulls it off perfectly, giving us a fascinating protagonist.
The cast members supporting Oldman are just as compelling, with everyone working at the top of their game. Each actor involved here gives off a fantastic performance and every single character is fully realized and brought to life wonderfully. Highlights for me included Tom Hardy bringing a feverish energy to the film as Ricki Tarr and Toby Jones commanding our attention as Percy Alleline. That being said, everyone involved here is impeccable and there is no shortage of talent on screen.
It’s a good thing the film is finally on Blu-Ray because Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film that demands multiple viewings. There is so much to appreciate about this multilayered film that really, you’d be foolish to stop at just two viewings. In Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a taut script is brought to life by an impeccable cast. Throw in the fact that it’s all gorgeously shot with an elaborate story that is brilliantly told, and you have one of the best movies of 2011.
Supporting this excellent film is a near perfect Blu-Ray transfer. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s splendid photography looks stunning on Blu-Ray and the film’s top notch production values come across perfectly. Detail is exceptional too, especially in facial closeups. This is especially important in a film like this since so much is said through facial expressions. Simply put, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a beautifully shot film that looks even better on Blu-Ray.
When it comes to audio, the atmosphere and ambiance on the audio track are the perfect compliments to this thrilling spy tale and Alberto Iglesias’s engaging score creates a constant sense of mystery which keeps up the dreary mood. Being a dialogue heavy film, it’s also important to note that every line spoken is crystal clear.
As for special features, here’s what we get.
- Audio Commentary: Director Tomas Alfredson and actor Gary Oldman give a soft-spoken yet intriguing commentary that while it occasionally has stretches of silence, it’s still very informative and we do learn quite a bit about the film’s production.
- Interviews: An hour’s worth of interviews with Alredson, Oldman, co-screenwriter Peter Straughan, author John le Carre, and actors Colin Firth and Tom Hardy. Once again, like the commentary, this is worth checking out as everyone that speaks gives their thoughts on the film and what went into making it.
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy First Look : This is a quick (about 15 minute) featurette serves as a briefing or sorts to the film’s characters and story. You may want to watch this before you dive into the film.
- Deleted Scenes
- BD-Live Functionality and News Ticker
- My Scenes Bookmarking
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a masterfully crafted and intelligent spy thriller that excels on so many levels. There is so much to appreciate here that you really need to see it at least a couple times to fully take in everything. The Blu-Ray is the perfect way to experience this intricate film as it offers up terrific audio and video, as well as some worthy special features. Though this may not be a film that appeals to everyone, if you can give it a chance and fully dedicate your attention to it, you may find yourself watching one of the best spy thrillers of at least the past decade.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an expertly crafted spy thriller with a superb lead performance by Gary Oldman.