If you expect a high explosives, action-packed, gunfire and combat scenes everywhere kind of movie — the likes of which Hollywood puts out every week — then you’ll be sorely disappointed with this. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is as far from the bog-standard, no-thoughts action film as it can be.
It’s a movie that takes its time for things to evolve, the plot to unfold and characters to develop. For the best, because this is one of the strongest espionage movies, possibly the strongest, I have seen in years.
This movie focuses entirely on events unfolding in the Cold War and on the personal dramas that come with a life as a spy in these dark and dangerous times. We see some of the horrors of those days, presented in very realistic ways, and the people caught up in the machinations of the powers that be.
Rather than there being a villain who is set up to receive all the public’s hatred, the bad guys of this story are people with very real motivations for the choices they hav made. Choices that often set off greater events than they, or anyone, could have imagined.
I won’t delve into it any deeper, as I believe that everyone should just see this for themselves. Literally everything in this movie clicks. The plot is interesting and keeps you watching every single minute, the acting is superb, the cinematography brilliant. Visually they did everything possible to portray the Cold War era, complete with that gritty 1970s feel. It is absolutely no surprise that this movie has been nominated for three Academy Awards.
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It was always going to be a challenge for this movie walking in the shadow of the 1979 television series. However, I really think it pulls it off. Gary Oldman pays homage to Alec Guinness in the lead role as George Smiley but also makes it his own. There is a very strong cast, essential, as the title suggests in what is really an ensemble piece despite Smiley’s lead. Kathy Burke puts in one of her strongest portrayals since ‘Nil by Mouth’.
The story is good as you would expect from a movie based on a Le Carre novel, but as noted here, the portrayal of the 1970s is almost painfully acute. The catching of its dinginess even for the relatively rich set against the contrast of brashly bright artificial colours, the lack of things to do, the sense that you were still in immediate post-war Britain in all its gloom, leavened by over-sugared, over lit entertainment, are all captured perfectly. It highlights how Britain looked little better than countries behind the Iron Curtain at the time, despite the greater freedoms. People who have sanitised their memories of the era dislike this movie, but if you want to see the truth of the times in a work of fiction, then this movie does it for you.