"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is a well-executed adaptation of John Le Carre's classic espionage novel of the Cold War, with a first-rate cast, a haunting atmosphere, and a compelling narrative.
"Tinker" goes right to work. The opening sequence has field agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) on an off-the-books mission to Hungary for the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, known as Control (John Hurt). Control suspects a mole within the upper reaches of the Service, and asks Prideaux to send back a codeword identifying the spy, using the children's nursery rhyme. The mission is compromised, Priddeaux is shot, and Control and his deputy George Smiley (Gary Oldman) are fired.
A restless Smiley is recalled to duty by a senior civil servant to investigate some unfinished business involving Ricki Tarr (a blonde Tom Hardy), a field agent who claims to know a vital Soviet secret and who has gone off the grid. With the assistance of Tarr's desk officer, the young Peter Guillam (an astonishingly good Benedict Cumberbatch), Smiley quietly renews the search for the mole. Some old-fashioned detecting leads Smiley and Guillam down a thin trail of clues to four suspects and a fateful confrontation at a house in London.
Although only two hours long, "Tinker" manages to work in the key elements from a long novel, and gets some terrific work from the cast, especially Gary Oldman as Smiley, a weary Cold War veteran whose long brooding silences speak volumes. The 1970's setting of the novel is evoked in detail with hair and clothing fashions, music, and technical props such as typewriters, old-fashioned teletypes, and reel-to-reel tape recorders. The pacing of the story keeps the suspense alive to the end.
The inevitable comparison is with the superb BBC TV mini-series of the late 1970's starring Alec Guinness as Smiley. It is a weakness of the movie that at just two hours, it lacks the time to properly introduce the many characters or the period to a modern audience who may not have experienced the Cold War. There isn't a lot of exposition in the movie, and this reviewer, who was very familiar with the novel and the mini-series, suspects some viewers may have trouble following the story.
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is highly recommended as an excellent and atmospheric spy drama.
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