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TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (director: Tomas Alfredson; screenwriters: based on the novel by John Le Carré/Bridget O’Connor/Peter Straughan; cinematographer: Hoyt Van Hoytema; editor: Dino Jonsater; music: Alberto Iglesias; cast: Gary Oldman (George Smiley), Kathy Burke (Connie Sachs), Benedict Cumberbatch (Peter Guillam), David Dencik (Toby Esterhase), Colin Firth (Bill Haydon), Stephen Graham (Jerry Westerby), Tom Hardy (Ricki Tarr), Ciaran Hinds (Roy Bland), John Hurt (Control), Toby Jones (Percy Alleline), Konstantin Khabensky (Polyakov), Svetlana Khodchenkova (Irina), Simon McBurney (Oliver Lacon), Mark Strong (Jim Prideaux); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating:R; producers: Tim Bevan/Eric Fellner/Robyn Slovo; Focus Features; 2011-France/UK/Germany-in English with Hungarian, Russian, Turkish dialogue with English subtitles)

“A top-level Le Carréespionage thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One In“) flawlessly directswith aEuropean sensibility John Le Carré‘s 1974 cold war novel, and it’s turned by the husband and wife writing team of Bridget O’Connor (the late) and Peter Straughan into a top-level Le Carréespionage thriller for the cinema. Bland Brit spy George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is recalled from his forced retirement with MI6 to compulsively track down in the 1970s a mole right in the heart of the ‘Circus’ (MI6 is informally known as the Circus). Things get moving when Smiley receives new info about a bungled operation from rakish rogue spy Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), known as the “scalp hunter”.

The prominent civil servant, the Undersecretary Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney), recruits Smiley and his spry younger assistant, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), to go underground to uncover which of Smiley’s ex-colleagues is the spy passing secrets to the Russians. Peter is used to sneak documents out of the Circus’ archives. The Americans, for one, believe what Smiley’s old boss Control (John Hurt) had long suspected before bounced from the service following a bungled operation in Budapest, that a mole–well-placed in the Circus–is passing info to the Russians. The Hungarian operation involved tough-guy spy Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) tracking down a certain Hungarian general, but getting stopped in a cafe.

Control, who has since died of a heart attack, suspected five men. The wary spy grouped together the four who were menacingly always together and gave them code-names according to the old nursery rhyme: “Tinker was used for the self-serving dour Scottish careerist Percy Alleline (Toby Jones); “Tailor” was used for the urbane Bill Haydon (Colin Firth); “Soldier” was used for the gruff Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds); and “Poor Man” was used for the untrustworthy Hungarian émigré Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). The fifth was called “Beggarman” and was Control’s right-hand man, George Smiley.

The inscrutable bloodhound, Smiley, still smarting from an unhappy marriage, gets his bearings correct when he visits another cast-off colleague, the blowsy Connie Sachs (Kathy Burke), and she puts him on the trail of the Russian spy Polyakov (Konstantin Khabensky). He turns out to be a key player in this mystery.

The ensemble cast is top-notch. The suspense is heightened throughout. The eerie atmosphere is fitting for the 1970s. And it’s not that easy to predict the outcome.

The pic connects with outsiders and those viewers who are disillusioned with those in power, and that after many scandals following Watergate it shows to today’s viewers that even the supposedly most faithful defenders of democracy too often turn out to be unprincipled and become either traitors or corrupt officials.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”