Friday, January 6, 2012

“Tinker Tailor” a Thinking Person’s Mystery-Thriller

By Skip Sheffield

Tired of cars that crash and things that blow up? “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is a thinking person’s action-mystery whodunit.
Gary Oldman stars as George Smiley, a top intelligence officer now retired from Britain’s secret service in this adaptation of John Le Carre’s 1974 chapter of his popular spy novel series.
The year is 1973 in the chilliest part of the Cold War. A year previously something went terribly wrong in Hungary. Three people were shot dead in downtown Budapest in broad daylight. One of them was an important “person of interest” in an ongoing investigation of a “mole” or informant to the Soviet Union at the very highest level of British Intelligence.
A melancholy man known as Control (John Hurt at his gloomiest) who resigned at the same time Smiley did after the fiasco, appeals to Smiley to come back to the “Circus,” as British Intelligence headquarters (MI-6) in London is nicknamed.
Smiley wants no part of the “Circus,” but it is hard for him to turn down a challenge. His marriage is in tatters and he is at loose ends. Grudgingly, he jumps back into the fray.
“Tinker” is so gray and gloomy director Tomas Alfredson could have just as well shot in black-and-white. There are many suspects, and Smiley considers them all. The plot is as complicated as a high-level chess match, but if you stick with it, it can be quite satisfying if not exciting.
The ensemble cast is absolutely first-rate. Toby Jones is at his effectively prissiest as fellow agent Percy Alleline. Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, and Mark Strong all contribute strategic parts to the complicated puzzle, but it is Gary Oldman as the taciturn, ingenious and fearless George Smiley who holds it all together.
Oldman tips his hat to the great Alec Guinness, who created the trench coat-wearing, bespeckled master spy in a seven-hour version of this 400-plus-pages book, broadcast by the BBC. I neither read the book nor saw the series, so I was glad to experience this kind of Cliff Notes treatment of John Le Clare’s spy-versus-spy world. I do not miss the Cold War one bit. This film reminds me why.

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