Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a gritty, realistic homage to Cold War spy games, based on the John le Carre novel of the same name. A retired member of the British Intelligence, le Carre’s firsthand experience of the world he writes about makes this story all the more compelling.
While Bond movies portray the British secret service as the ultimate heroic organisation, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy rips apart the glamorous myths created by mainstream spy movies. MI6 is shown to be nothing more than a pawn in a game where the USSR and the US are the true players. The plot focuses on a leak in the MI6 information system after which Agent Smiley (Gary Oldman) is sent on a mission to uncover a British double agent, who has been giving away his county’s secrets to the Russians.
The film’s palette of drab greys and beiges ensures that it associates absolutely no glory with the Cold War. The era shown is true to its name: frigid, frozen and mechanical. Even though the violence is brutal, it is completely devoid of any excitement or passion. One the film’s most graphic shots reveal a Russian agent gutted to death in a tub full of his own blood. It may be gruesome, buts it’s very much business as usual. The film never shows the actual murder, thereby implying such violence is nothing out of the ordinary, not even worth the viewer’s time.
Since the film is based in the 1970s, before cell phones and computers came in common use, modern viewers may have mixed reactions to the technology, or lack thereof, shown in the movie. All of the country’s most precious secrets are written on pieces of paper and communicated using telegrams and clunky landline phones with rotating dials. Some may feel an adrenaline rush watching Agent Smiley’s aide Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumerbatch) nervously riffling through massive cabinets to physically smuggle out secret files. However, those who would rather see someone hurriedly hack into state files using electronic gadgetry may be frustrated by how this lack of technology slows down the action and may even end up dismissing the movie as dull.
Critics have hailed the movie as a cinematic masterpiece. The subject matter lends itself to brilliance, and the gradual pace of the film allows for amazingly detailed performances, as it gives actors time to draw out the emotions of their characters. Creating the film’s disturbing atmosphere was practically a custom-made task for Swedish director Thomas Alfredson, who entered the spotlight after his critically acclaimed vampire movie, Let The Right One In in 2008.
Love it or hate it, there is no denying that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is definitely not your average spy movie.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 20th, 2011.
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