George Smiley, a recently retired MI6 agent, doing his best to adjust to a life outside the secret service. However, when a disgraced agent reappears with information concerning a mole at the heart of the Circus, Smiley is drawn back into the murky field of espionage. Tasked with investigating which of his trusted former colleagues has chosen to betray him and their country, Smiley narrows his search to four suspects - all experienced, urbane, successful agents - but past histories, rivalries and friendships make it far from easy to pinpoint the man who is eating away at the heart of the British establishment.
Set in the bleak days of the Cold War (1970s), espionage veteran George Smiley (Oldman) is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6?s echelons, known as the Circle. There are five possible suspects who could be the mole that is leaking secrets to the Soviets. It is Smiley’s job to find out who it is.
Alfredson’s film requires the viewer’s full and undivided attention if it’s to succeed. With this in place, it’s film plot gold, with only a smattering of action sequences of the traditional, film noir-style ‘shoot-them-up’ kind, rather than all-out excess that often peppers contemporary spy thrillers. More a character study within a traditional thriller mould, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy matures at its own deliberate pace in a marvellous recreation of sharp 70s style and growing anxiety, fitting of Le Carré’s work.
That said the captivating elements of the film are not necessarily the spy story itself that builds the tension beautifully as almost a sub-context, but the riveting screen exchanges between some of the finest British actors today, in settings that are worthy of capturing as a photograph or painting at any one instant; each scene is superbly crafted.
Oldman’s man-of-few-words Smiley is a force of reflective menace, sumptuously underacted but utterly domineering in any exchange he finds his character in, and surely worthy of awards recognition. Firth is naturally at home in the British corridors of espionage power, almost typecast in a sense, in a boisterous and outspoken part as Bill Haydon, a role that befits his eloquent tones and flamboyant air. Jones, Hinds and Swedish star David Dencik as other possible moles on Control’s (Hurt) chess board all give stellar performances that alternate between conceited highs to cowardly lows. Hurt makes his own mark at the start as the linchpin of the operation, callously set up and brushed aside, but forever the film’s looming conscience.
Two younger actors, though, Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch, deserve special recognition for their more ambitious moments that involve a lot of the film’s action sequences, placing them on a par with acting stalwart Strong in injecting the film’s nail-biting set-pieces as Smiley’s dig for clues escalates, especially Hardy as Ricki Tarr who delivers his reveals with poise and purpose.
Alfredson’s screen version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a return to cinema of the 40/50s that requires cerebral input and facts recollection, even though some might guess the culprit long before the coldly calculated end reveal that might possibly diffuse the mounting intrigue and suspicion. Nevertheless, for those who do, the prize is being proven right, adding a whole different, but still exciting dimension to the riddle. As said this film is more a platform of acting greatness that defines British cinema and novel writing as world class. It is a nostalgic tour de force that demands due diligence.