Tomas Alfredson is an incredible director whose other internationally-acclaimed film, Let the Right One In, was easily one of the best movies of the last decade. Well, now he’s back and I am very pleased to say that his latest effort, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, easily matches up to his impressive debut.
First and foremost comes Gary Oldman’s stunningly cold, quiet and collected depiction of Cold War intelligence officer George Smiley. With every facial twitch and dependable non-answer, Oldman’s quiet, composed Smiley operates at his own pace with his own agenda amidst a sea of ineptitude, deceit, and treason. However, the audience soon learns that his stony face belies a complicated and troubling backstory.
Following Oldman’s excellent example are Tom Hardy, playing the lower ranked intelligence agent Ricki Tarr, and Benedict Cumberbatch, playing another intelligence agent named Peter Guillam. In fact, not a single weak performance can be found in Tinker. Some of my fellow critics have made the argument that this film is one of the best cases for the creation of an ensemble Oscar award, and I tend to agree.
As a director, Alfredson refuses to talk down to his audience, expecting us to pay attention and listen intently for each thread of detail that ultimately forms the full tapestry of the plot. With that in mind, many people will likely come away from the film with a different experience; I would hazard a guess that someone who goes in but does not pay acute attention might decide that Alfredson expects the audience to have read the book upon which Tinker was based.
This is, of course, not the case – although I imagine it takes less time to understand what is going on if you have that foundation, you can successfully pick up the pieces of plot and put them together if you have the patience. Overall, I cannot say that this is a film flaw, but it is something to take note of when deciding whether or not you want to see the film. Again, all the relevant information is present, but you have to be willing to watch out for it. The reward is well-worth it.
Scene composition, framing, and wordless expressions take precedence over dialogue for a large part of the movie – having said that, if someone is talking, it is probably essential to the story. This is why paying attention is critical to fully comprehending the plot. Some critics have stated that it is a film which requires multiple viewings to fully understand, but I would suggest to you that an earnest viewing attempt on the first go-round will give you a full picture of what transpired on screen. Despite this, repeat viewings of such a masterwork are inevitable, even if it is just for sheer enjoyment.
In closing, I feel I should make a quick point about the director. Every aspect of Tinker was incredible; from the actors’ nuanced performances to the use of both silence and ambient music to set the tone of the film, it is clear that Alfredson truly knows how to make a movie. I believe the one thing he has left to master is a unique trademark that lets the audience know that they just saw an Alfredson film. I already get some of that feeling based on the sheer tour-de-force of his technical ability, but quirks that leaves an indelible and unique directorial stamp on his features would be more than welcomed in my opinion. Please note that his is not a critique of Tinker per se, just an observation I have made after seeing the first two major installments in his œuvre.
So should you see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? Well, it’s a slow-paced, old-fashioned period spy film, and that should be taken to heart when you make your decision. However, if it even remotely piques your interest, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I have seen many movies in my life and, with willing participation from the audience, this one ranks among the very best.
Verdict: Movie Win