Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was one of the films that I knew I had missed out on by not seeing it in theaters. Fortunately, for me, the advances in home entertainment have allowed for theater like experiences to exist outside of actual theaters, and this, combined with a Redbox coupon allowed me to view the spy thriller in a setting that replicated the big screen. The grandiosity of such a film is only helped by viewing it in an encompassing manner, particularly considering that the film is both incredibly cinematic and narratively dense. Viewing the film is no passive activity and between the brilliant screen adaptation of the seventies miniseries and a veritable onslaught of Academy Award deserving performances, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is everything one could desire in a thriller. It is becoming rarer and rarer to find a thriller that is not easily predictable or repetitive and despite knowing the plot to this film prior to engaging with it, I still found myself on the edge of my sofa wondering what would happen next and at what point each character would meet their demise. The release of this film, along with The King’s Speech a year earlier is quickly restoring my faith in the presence of British filmmaking, something that for so long seemed to be carried solely by Danny Boyle. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a giant achievement in reminding moviegoers of how complex and magical a piece of cinema can be when executed correctly.
The plot for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a long, drawn out piece of narrative that is to be experience and would suffer from the slightest of spoilers. However, I will attempt to give a cursory explanation as to the workings of the film in order to allow readers some semblance of what the workings of the film. The narrative places those watching within the aftermath of a recent assassination of a British spy, one Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) who was sent by a higher up with the intent of ratting out a Russian spy within their own forces. His assassination is unexpected and the result of an overreaction by persons within the Russian infiltrate. Realizing the emerging danger within such actions, British intelligence brings their best spy George Smiley (Gary Oldman) out of retirement in hopes of finding the rat within their organization. Armed only with his wits and the help of a younger agent, Smiley delves into an investigation that leads him to the realization that every individual within British Intelligence is suspect to odd behavior, including himself. Smiley quickly becomes a point of contempt by members of the agency and is watched as closely as those he is investigating. Travelling between Britain, Hungary and France Smiley unfolds a trail of deceit and paranoia that also forces him to reflect on his own past, one that is full of loss, despair and disillusionment. Ultimately, the film ends with an explosive climax of realizations on both national and personal scales fading out with what will perhaps prove to be the best use of Julio Iglesias music ever.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an incredibly nostalgic film. It would seem odd to call a spy film about the divisive effects of The Cold War to be such, but the signs are all there. The characters exist in a world very similar to that of the television series Mad Men, when unspoken rules of etiquette and social mores outweighed individuals desires to prove a point or rise in the world. This notion is only double when placed within a British society that highly values manners and formalities. The characters in the film clearly exist to provoke viewers into reflecting on a past when spies could get drunk at parties and bureaucracy could be overturned simply by knowing the right individuals. Despite reflecting fondly on the past, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is also fairly critical of the era, making note of the incredibly misogynist existence of the agency, manifested quite clearly in the dismissal of the suspicions of one female spy within the film. Furthermore, the other women within the film are either relegated to the corners of the scenes or completely non-existant, as is the case with Smiley’s wife Ann, who never makes an appearance, despite the film existing in multiple time periods. Furthermore, when characters engage in behaviors seen as socially unacceptable behavior they do so behind close doors, because their being spies only exacerbates their possibility for exploitation. To some extent, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy plays out like an old school James Bond film in that it seems cool on a surface level, yet is clearly problematic when one looks at each of the pieces individually.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is profound. It is well worth owning and in this case bluray is the only way to go.