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'Tinker Tailor' disenchants with bona fide portrayal

By Anthony Lauriello     1/17/12 6:00pm

James Bond has a host of complicated gadgets, such as deadly lasers and car missiles, to name a few. Jason Bourne arms himself with every imaginable type of firearm when not utilizing his incredible martial arts skills. In the beginning of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the protagonist and MI6 spy George Smiley (Gary Oldman, The Dark Knight) is outfitted with a pair of  geriatric-looking bifocals. While certainly not as exciting as the tools of his fellow cinema spies, the glasses allow Smiley to coolly and objectively observe events and gain a power comparable to Bond's suaveness and Bourne's brawn.

Based on the John le Carre novel of the same name, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy  takes place in the early 1970s. The plot follows Smiley after he is forced into retirement due to a botched mission in Budapest. At the behest of the head of MI6, Smiley returns to the spy agency to uncover a Soviet mole that has infiltrated the upper echelons of MI6. Smiley gives his four suspects at the head of the agency code names based on the children's rhyme which makes up the movie's title. With the help of his assistant Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch, Atonement), Smiley unravels a byzantine conspiracy created by the ruthless KGB director Karla, who never fully appears on screen but whose presence is never far.

Like the novel, the movie depicts a lackluster vision of Cold War spies drawn from le Carre's experience working in British intelligence. Instead of sleeping with beautiful women in exotic locales, these spies spend most of their time behind spartan desks, devising strategies or poring over documents for clues. Violence hardly ever occurs, and unlike other works in the genre, it is never glorified.

Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) does an excellent job of creating this world. The sets, such as the soundproof offices of MI6's elite, which were designed to look like Airstream trailers, are perfect. The tense musical score by Alberto Iglesias (The Constant Gardener) also adds to the suspense. Alfredson crafts a fast-paced movie that not only condenses a complex plot, but also uses quick scene transitions and fast-paced dialogue to make the viewer feel part of the intrigue. The characters use undefined, nearly impenetrable jargon, such as "the Circus" for MI6, which the audience must pick up using only contextual clues. Although the beginning of the movie might seem obtuse to viewers with no previous exposure to le Carre's novel, this confusion only heightens the audience's realization of Smiley's cerebral feats. While Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a movie where the viewer must pay attention, it is not inscrutable.

Lacking the more fantastic elements of the spy genre, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sets high expectations for its actors to provide compelling character studies. Luckily, the veteran thespians in the cast easily rise to the challenge. Colin Firth (The King's Speech) does an excellent job of portraying the conflicted Bill Haydon, whose engagement in extramarital affairs with members of both sexes drives the action of the film. However, Oldman impresses most with his fascinating portrayal of George Smiley. Although the audience spends the movie rooting for Smiley in his efforts to stop Karla, Oldman also shows Smiley's more sinister side and his willingness to put the job first.

At the end of most spy films, one cannot help but want to pursue a career in espionage; however, as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy closes, you are left with a different opinion. Though viewers may feel disillusioned by this depiction of a mundane spy world, everyone involved in this movie exemplifies professionals doing their job at the highest level.

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