Having been created during the mid 70s by John le Carré, and popularised by a series starring Alex Guiness, Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy will mostly appeal to an older audience. Those who have seen it before and are familiar with the era it was made in will want to see how the film adapts its source material as well as displays life in the 70s. It heavily contrasts with things like the Bourne trilogy and has much more realism than the newly revamped Bond films with Daniel Craig.
In all of those films the crisis’ are exceptional, something to be never seen again and will shake the world. In this film the threat is just a part of daily life of the spies of MI6.
The plot revolves around the legacy of Control, the former head of MI6, and those now in charge of the Secret Service. A retired agent known as George Smiley is brought back in to help deal with a possible Soviet mole, unraveling both past histories and old plots as he investigates his old workplace.
Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy makes good use of the resources it has and is a very artfully made film. While it has a great cast of talented actors, they seem to have specifically been written to act like spies. That is, most of them would easily pass as being an average person and do not stand out.
Gary Oldman’s Smiley especially embodies this, playing such a toned down and quiet character that not one single person would ever recognise as being a member of MI6. Their characters, save for one or two exceptions, aren’t bold or openly stand out amongst the crowd, being deadpan throughout most of the film. Had director Tomas Alfredson not been able to get together such a great cast, capable to quietly give their roles character without the overtness of many fictional characters in modern mainstream cinema then it could have spelled disaster for this flick. Despite this what makes the film stand out the most is not its story or even its actors but its great cinematography and editing.
There’s a definite feeling of voyeurism about the presentation of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy which makes it feel more like a documentary than a film. Frequently minor scenes which serve no apparent purpose to the film turn up and there are a great deal of choices by the director which seem odd at first glance.
One example is early on where several of the characters briefly talk to one another while in a car as they are irritated by a bee before swatting it out an open window. Another is the scenes where, in true Hitchcock style, the camera views events with objects obscuring the characters. Viewing them from a distance, looking at them through windows or with banisters in the way. They’re just small elements but they make the film feel much more like a look into a person’s life than something constructed for the big screen.
What also helps with this sense of realism is the choice of lighting and music, or rather the lack of it. What little music there is proves to be very unintrusive and usually serves as a reminder of past events, something the characters previously heard, rather than to try and evoke emotions. The lighting of each scene is minimalistic and very flat, casting shadows and usually obscures the actors’ features. Both of these elements help to add to the realism and punctuate the scenery, showing locations as being very grotty, grey and dreary places.
There is also distinctly little violence. Only four gunshots are fired during the course of the entire film and any moment of brutality only lasts scant seconds. Most of the actual wetworks takes place off screen with the audience seeing only the aftermath of events. Much like how assassinations and attempts to silence others would never be seen by the real world, only their results.
By no means is this a film for everyone. You have to watch this with your brain actively reading things, the lack of action and apparent emotion might bore some as will the quietness of events. It is something which will not appeal to everyone and feels more like the Harry Palmer films than today’s spy flicks. That being said this is a very well made film and is recommended for anyone even vaguely interested in the spy world. It stands out well amongst other films of its genre and it is well worth seeing due to the contrasts with most modern espionage flicks.
Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy all related characters and media are owned by StudioCanal UK and Universal Pictures.