Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

wogma rating: Add to 'must watch' list (?) - But only if a slow narrative appeals to you.

quick review:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film that is most certainly not for everyone. Most people will have a problem with the pace of the film. Some would even be turned off by its bleak look. Yet, the film packs in some superb performances, and it creates a mood that few films of the espionage-thriller genre manage. Recommended for cinephiles and fans of cinema that demands your full attention. For the others, Hollywood will definitely churn out something more up your alley soon.

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Director: Tomas Alfredson
Running time: 127 minutes
Genres: Suspense, Thriller
More Movie Info

There is a wonderful new stereotypical character in India these days - he or she who says, “I hate Bollywood man. They can never match up to Hollywood.” Such people seem to enjoy bangs, booms and style - a staple of Hollywood films, particularly espionage thrillers. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is probably not for them. It isn’t for someone who is looking to be on the edge of their seat without being willing to invest themselves mentally and emotionally into the film-watching experience.

Tinker Tailor is a film that can be appreciated at multiple levels. The wonderful mood that the film manages to create (in keeping with what international espionage in real life must probably be like); the measured pace with which the multitude of layers of the plot are revealed, the wonderful performances by an ensemble cast of British actors; and most importantly, at least for me, the satisfied yet incomplete feeling of wanting to be involved with the experience just a little longer, even after the lights are back.

The film primarily deals with the British MI6’s search for a mole within their ranks. Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, a veteran intelligence man who is entrusted with this task. Set mostly in London in the 1970s, the pace of the film is slow, like a teabag kept in lukewarm water, left to brew by itself.

The film is mostly shot in telephoto lenses, making the viewer feel like he is spying on the character through binoculars - distant yet desperately trying to be involved with them. This is doubtlessly intentional, considering the espionage theme. Concurrently, the colour palette is bleak and pale. Nothing stands out visually, perhaps because nothing is what it seems. Director Tomas Alfredson’s sensibilities are clearly European, but that is stating the obvious, considering where he is from.

Gary Oldman anchors the film with his performance. There are few actors in the world like him simply because every performance of his is a masterclass in how to be the character. Colin Firth is marvelous as Bill Haydon. My current favourite actor, Tom Hardy, brings raw intensity to his character of Ricki Tarr, an agent in hiding. John Hurt and Benedict Cumberbatch amongst others lend noteworthy support.

The film is far from perfect, particularly in its writing. The screenplay of the film, as mentioned earlier, takes it time to unfold. There were also some portions that were quite ambiguous, to the point that it would perhaps need another viewing to fully comprehend. Even then, the nervous-but-never-high-voltage tension that the gently unfolding events created was something that I savoured through the film.

Thrillers with an international backdrop seem to be the flavor of the season, what with M:I – 4, Don 2 and Sherlock Holmes seeing releases in successive weeks. This film is a far cry from the films mentioned above in almost every aspect that they can be compared in. Perhaps that was why Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy worked for me. I enjoyed some of the others, but this one stayed with me far longer.

A word of caution though - while Tinker Tailor can prove to be an immersive experience for some, I suspect that it won’t appeal to a majority of the audience. It is the kind of film I would recommend to someone only after I spend an hour with them to figure out their taste in cinema.

This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.

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This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.

Parental Guidance:

This really isn’t a film for kids of any age!

  • Violence: A few violent scenes, involving killing
  • Language: Traces of profanity
  • Nudity & Sexual content: Some sexual content
  • Concept: An espionage thriller set in the upper echelons of Britain’s MI6
  • General Look and Feel: Slow-paced, pale mood in keeping with what espionage in real life must actually be like.

Detailed Ratings (out of 5):

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Cast, crew, links

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Running time:
127 minutes

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