Mania Grade: B+
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- Reviewed by:: Tim Janson
- Grade:: B+
- Rated:: R
- Cast:: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones
- Writer:: John Le Carre (Novel), Peter Straughan (screenplay)
- Director:: Tomas Alfredson
- Distributor:: Universal Home Entertainment
- Original Year of Release:: 2011
- Extras:: See Below
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Blu-Ray Review
A different look at the spy game
By Tim Janson
March 23, 2012
Based on John Le Carre’s best-selling novel of the same name, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a Cold War spy epic detailing the search for a Russian double agent who has infiltrated British Intelligence (SIS). The film stars Gary Oldman as Le Carre’s most famous character, master spy George Smiley, who has appeared in several of his novels.
In 1973, the head of British Intelligence (code named “the circus”) referred to only as “Control” (John Hurt) becomes aware that there may be a Russian mole within the organization. Unknown to anyone else, Control sends agent Jim Prideaux to Hungary to meet with a Hungarian General who claims to have the name of the mole. The mission goes horribly wrong and Prideaux is shot and captured. As a result Control, and his right-hand man Smiley are forced from the bureau.
A year later, an official with the British Cabinet office summons Smiley out of retirement as they now have discovered that there indeed is a mole in a senior position of British Intelligence. Smiley chooses a small team of agents to assist him including Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is the head of the “scalphunters” a group of agents who handle the dirty business like assassinations and kidnapping. The intelligence group now has a new leader, Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) and a group of cronies who are looking to use a secret new Russian informant to work with the CIA who has long believed that the British Intelligence had serious leaks.
Now for those who are reading about spies and thinking James Bond, think again. Tinker, Taylor, Solider, Spy has no fistfights, no shootouts, no car chases, and no exotic, beautiful woman. This isn’t the glamorous world of espionage made famous in the novels by Ian Fleming, but rather this is the blue-collar world of spies., a world where much of the work is done by eavesdropping on phone calls and actually spying on people. And as such it is a more realistic look at the intelligence community. Their lives are a far cry from James Bond’s…as they deal with troubled relationships, job stress, and even being laid off. No one ever gave 007 a box on a Friday and told him to clean out his desk.
This is an ornately complex film. There are a lot of characters and their stories are often told in flashback sequences which ultimately all weave delicately into the plot. It’s a film that demands you watch it without distractions. Even doing so I found myself flipping back several minutes to catch something I missed. There’s scenes that on the outside look like they are throwaways but everything here has its purpose…every conversation, every move by the characters. There’s no denying that it can be laborious to get through. The film has one speed…one tone, and admittedly it isn’t something everyone is going to like.
No doubt the glue that holds it all together is the many outstanding performances and Gary Oldman in particular. Oldman shows why he’s one of the finest actors around today with a measured, intelligent performance as a spy who is worn down by his long career yet is as sharp as ever. Kudos also to Mark Strong who plays Jim Prideaux, the captured agent who is ultimately released and has to assimilate himself back into civilian society as he is not allowed to return to his position with Intelligence. Tom Hardy is also superb as Ricki Tarr, one of the “scalphunters” who is the one who uncovers the plot and wants nothing more than to get out of the business and live a normal life. But in the end this is Oldman’s film. He is inherently watchable in every scene. Tomas Alfredson, who also directed the Swedish film “Let the Right One In”, handles this film in much the same way with a slow, but steady hand and careful pacing.
Commentary with Director Tomas Alfredson and Gary Oldman
Deleted Scenes (6:08)
Cast Interviews (24:43) – Interviews with Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, and screenwriter Peter Straughan
Interview with John Le Carre (31:48) – The best extra on the disc by far. Le Carre, who worked in British Intelligence in the 1960s, shares the inspiration for the novel which was based on many actual events.