The movie follows the master spy, George Smiley (Gary Oldman) as he tries to hunt down a mole in the Circus (MI6). Smiley is regarded as one of the finest spies in MI6, but he and Control (John Hurt), the head of MI6, are ousted after a failed intelligence operation leads to the capture of Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), a high level field agent. However, when rumors of a mole in the highest levels of begin to surface, Smiley is brought out of retirement to find the mole.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy features many talented actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch, John Hurt, and Colin Firth, but the true star of the movie is Gary Oldman, who perfectly captures the character of George Smiley. Of all the famous fictional spies, George Smiley is the most realistic. He lacks the sex appeal of Bond and Bourne’s fighting ability. Smiley is a 60 year old man, whose only asset left to him is his wits. Gary Oldman’s long and illustrious career allows him to perfectly depict a grizzled old spy who has found countless secrets and seen many betrayals.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is unique in the espionage drama for its lack of action sequences. It rather captures the cold paranoia of the Cold War. The movie is filmed in a grayish tone, to emphasize how difficult it was to trust anyone during this uncertain period in time. Perhaps the most masterful part of the movie was the depictions of Cold War era Russian agents. The main “antagonist” in the film is really Karla, the head of the Soviet KGB, but the audience never sees his face. Karla, instead of showing himself, acts through the mole, which is his proxy, emphasizing the ambiguity of espionage. To find the mole, Smiley infiltrates archives, finds old documents, and interviews old employees. The movie emphasizes that espionage is not really about gun fights but rather collecting intelligence. Although this process seems boring, the movie is incredibly suspenseful, building to a crescendo as each new piece of information brings Smiley a little bit closer to finding the identity of the mole.
Thanks to the Bond franchise and many others, the Cold War has been glamourized as a grand ideological fight with the proud Western countries trying to fight back the duplicitous Communist Russians. Spies are exulted as debonair agents with cool guns and agents. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy reveals the dark, dirty nature of the Cold War. Spies are depicted as rather ordinary men, who work in the shadows and deal with unpleasant secrets, all while risking torture and death. As Smiley says “Don't you think it's time to recognize there is as little worth on your side [KGB] as there is on mine [MI6]?” I could probably go on for several more pages about this movie, but suffice to say that it is an excellent, honest and compelling portrayal of the Cold War.
Runtime: 2 hours, 7 minutes
Watch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on Netflix here.