Film Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

28 Sep

– by Walton Pantland

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a finely crafted spy movie. It owes more to old films like The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin than modern incarnations like The Bourne Identity. It’s a cerebral and atmospheric film, and you need to pay attention to follow the complexity of the plot as the tension slowly winds itself to a cold, hard finale.

Based on the novel by John le Carré, and set in 1973 in the depths of the cold war, the central plot is that one some one at the very top of British intelligence is a secret Soviet agent – and has been for years. MI6 – code named the Circus – has been infiltrated by an enemy agent. Gary Oldman, in a masterful performance, plays George  Smiley, tasked with surreptiously identifying and exposing the spy at the heart of the Circus. He teams up with a Benedict Cumberpatch’s Peter Guillam as they set out to spy on the spies and uncover the mole. As he slowly uncovers the agent’s tracks, he is haunted by an earlier interaction with Soviet master spy Karla, who appears to be the puppet master pulling the strings.

The grey tones and muted, subtly shifting moods perfectly evoke Cold War paranoia; the focus on betrayal and secrecy rather than car cases and gun fights a reminder of the contrast between the slow burning tensions of international espionage and the passions of hot war.

The film also deals with loyalty and identity, as well as with homophobia in the British establishment, and asks: why would some one betray their country? The answer seems to be that despite the differences between their societies, at this level both sides seem as bad as each other. Both engage in nefarious deeds, and are involved in assassinations and other such activity. Despite the veneer of espionage being a gentleman’s pursuit, this is a dirty business and people are of no consequence.

When you find yourself with colleagues you despise and enemies you respect, and complicated layers of double dealing, it is hard to know when you’ve crossed the line until it is too late. Featuring more than one passionate but tragic love story, as an agent falls for the beautiful but betrayed Russian woman Irina and tries to rescue her, Smiley and Guillam attempt to hold things together and inject some humanity into the situation.

With a stellar cast and understated performances, this film evokes a murky, complex world when the shadow of nuclear annihilation hung over the body politic.

A masterful film well worth watching.

 

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