May 30, 2012


Modern spy fiction owes debts to two British authors. Ian Fleming created James Bond, who became the spy movie franchise over the past few decades. Fleming’s formula has also worked in dozens of other films—beautiful girls, clever gadgets, exotic locations. The other fiction spymaster is John LeCarre. LeCarre’s spies are so authentic some of the terms he created for his spies to use came to be used in the real world. LeCarre’s most famous work, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, was recently made into a film for those looking to get lost in the wilderness of mirrors. We review the DVD after the jump.

Tinker-Tailor-Soldier-Spy-imageThe film takes place during the coldest part of the Cold War. A botched defection leaves an agent dead and confirms the worst fear any spy could have: a mole inside the british agency the insiders call The Circus has compromised operations from the top down. The latest breach ousts the head of the agency and his right hand man, George Smiley. Smiley is determined to discover who is responsible for the leaks, which his boss codenamed with the words in the title. Smiley is the opposite of James Bond in many ways, but they both share a determination to make sure they get the job done.

The book was made into a BBC miniseries decades ago with Sir Alec Guinness in the role of George Smiley. Guinness left some big shoes to fill. Gary Oldman steps into those shoes, or perhaps, behind the big pair of glasses that define Smiley’s character. Oldman can be known for his histronics, but he gives Smiley an excellent slow burn intensity. Smiley is the thread that weaves through the stories of the other spies on the film. Smiley has given up a lot for his life as a spy and Oldman nails that blend of lonliness and determination a spy like him possesses in spades.

Oldman is surrounded by a cast of great actors. The other suspects are played by actors that could carry a film like this on their own, like Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones and Colin Firth. It does a good job of hiding who is the ultimate double agent, though the one who ends up on film the most plays out as the true culprit. Tom Hardy, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch round out the ensemble as agents in the field essential to Smiley’s operation.

Tinker-Tailor-Soldier-Spy-imageDirector Tomas Alfredson broke onto the scene as the director of the best vampire film in decades, Let The Right One In. Alfredson brings the same cold detachment to Cold War London that he did in his most famous film. It works wonders. Alfredson uses the voyeuristic lives of spies to give the film a distant feel. The story is structured in flashbacks told to Smiley by those involved in the operations. This makes the movie take a while to get going, but everything comes to a satisfying conclusion in the end.

Deleted scenes can be hit or miss, but the ones included in this collection do a lot to flesh out the subjects of Smiley’s investigation. The most disappointing feature is the commentary featuring the director and Oldman. They have a few interesting things to say about the film, but with a cast this loaded with great actors, it would have been nice to hear their thoughts as well.

Spy fans looking for betrayal and intrigue rather than car chases and explosions will find this an excellent addition to their library.

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