It’s the quintessential British espionage novel. Those familiar with the work of spymaster John le Carré may be surprised to learn that this big-screen adaptation is directed by the Swedish helmer Tomas Alfredson, whose only previous notable effort was the vampire flick Let The Right One In (2008).
Gratifyingly, Alfredson reveals a canny eye for the neo-noir London setting, recreated beautifully by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and production designer Maria Djurkovic. An antithesis of the Bond and Bourne adventures, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has next to no action, yet manages to be a crackling good thriller.
The compelling if overly complicated screenplay finds dour, nicotine-stained secret service spooks manoeuvering a world of moral murkiness. The focus is on George Smiley (Oldman), a veteran of British Intelligence who’s brought out of ‘retirement’ to root out a Russian mole sequestered within their organisation.
A deadly cat-and-mouse game ensues, replete with betrayals, double-dealings and manipulations. Under the circumstances, no one can be trusted. Anyone from the agency’s top echelon could be the traitor.
The story flows fluidly from present to past and back again via flashbacks and the questioning of disgruntled former agents. In one memorable scene, Smiley recounts an encounter with his arch-nemesis before the latter was deported to Russia. If there are any reservations, they are with the climax, as pieces of the puzzle opportunely fall into place. Stalwart character actor Gary Oldman is astonishing as the bespectacled protagonist. Last year’s Best Actor Oscar winner Colin Firth is sufficiently saucy as the fellow agent suspected of having an affair with Smiley’s wife.
For those in search of something different from the usual effects-driven blockbuster, this movie is the ticket.