“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for violence, profanity, sexuality and nudity.
Running Time: 127 minutes
Distributor: Focus Features
Dateline: Budapest, 1973. It is the height of the Cold War, and British spy Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) has been dispatched behind the Iron Curtain on a covert, anti-Communist mission. But when the operation is badly botched, and blood is shed, there are consequences back in London at M16 headquarters where both the head of the organization (John Hurt) and his right-hand man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), are forced to resign in disgrace.
Yet, it isn’t very long before the latter is secretly rehired by Undersecretary Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney), the member of the prime minister’s cabinet responsible for overseeing the intelligence agency. For, there is good reason to believe that a Soviet mole has managed to infiltrate the “Circus,” the government moniker for M16’s highest echelon. As it turns out, Prideaux was in Hungary in search of the double agent whose identity has been narrowed down to one of four suspects referred to by the surreptitious codenames Tinker (Toby Jones), Tailor (Colin Firth), Soldier (Ciaran Hinds) and Poor Man (David Dencik).
Now, it falls to the wily Smiley to match wits with an equally-savvy, inscrutable adversary. What makes the protagonist’s task particularly perilous is that he dare not risk suspicion by confiding in any of his contacts inside M16. Instead, as a lone wolf, he must rely on a combination of a career’s worth of experience and his finely-tuned personal radar to attempt to ensnare his elusive prey.
Is the traitor the ambitious Percy Alleline (Tinker), the unflappable Bill Haydon (Tailor), the rough-edged Roy Bland (Soldier) or the officious Toby Esterhase (Poor Man)? That is the proposition posed by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, as spellbinding an espionage thriller as you are ever likely to encounter in a theater.
That the multi-layered mystery proves so intriguing should be no surprise, given that it’s based on a labyrinthine best-seller many fans of the genre consider to be the best spy novel of all time. FYI, author David John Moore Cornwell, aka John Le Carre, who wrote under a pseudonym as required by England of its former agents, makes a cameo in the picture as a guest at a Christmas party.
This adaption is considerably dense compared to the seven-episode miniseries the BBC shot in 1979 starring Sir Alec Guinness. Nonetheless, director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) has painstakingly distilled the 400-page opus down to its essential elements while remaining ever so faithful to the source material in terms of tenor and tone.
A well-crafted, harrowing whodunit of Hitchcockian proportions!