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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: A slow burning fuse

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a well-executed film, technically. The acting couldn’t really be of higher quality. The chameleon-like Oldman (that guy looks different everywhere doesn’t he?) puts in a standout performance amongst an all-star cast that all get a fair amount of screen time: Colin Firth, John Hurt, Toby Jones and Mark Strong. The surprise standout, however, is Benedict Cumberbatch (Peter Guillam), who is apparently not a newcomer to fans of the BBC Sherlock series.

Cumberbatch is a welcome screen  presence and delivers Peter Guillam as the most dynamic character of the film. Seeing that he is in War Horse almost makes me curious to watch it. Almost.

Basically, the film takes place in the early 70s during the Cold War within British Intelligence, a.k.a. the “Circus,” which has been infiltrated by a spy. Apparently there’s a double agent that’s spouting off secrets to Karla and the Russians. “There’s a rotten apple. We have to find it,” says Control (Hurt), head of British Intelligence.

After a botched mission in Budapest, Control resigns and George Smiley (Oldman) is forced out. In retirement, Smiley is sent to investigate the happenings in Hungary and to talk with a mole named Ricki Tarr (Hardy) in hopes of cleansing the legacy of his generation of the Circus. This is a time of shame for them, not the days of “a real war, [when] Englishmen could be proud.” His right hand man along the way is the loyal and dependable Peter Guillam (Cumberbatch). Those are the bare bones.

I don’t know that I have a lot to say about Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, but that’s a good thing in this case. Too much plot information would give secrets away that would take away the thrill of watching it slowly develop. Plus it’s just difficult to take notes on a movie that challenges you so much while you’re watching it.

Aside from the story, the twists, and the dead-on levels of true spy-ery in this film, I must say that I truly appreciated the camera work, the lighting, and design. The costumes, shadows, and angles all capture the mood and tone. The opening camera shot sucks you into Budapest where things go awry.

I appreciate the fact that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy doesn’t get all gussied up for Hollywood. If you’re looking for explosions and car chases then this film isn’t for you. If you appreciate well- developed characters and a twisting plot, then you’re in the right place. The film thrives on the characters and the intensity and uncertainty of their relationships. A spy is among them and the heat level elevates in the tight quarters. Tinker is a slow burning fuse that you’ll watch inch towards the ultimate destruction. “A man should know when to leave the party,” but sometimes he just needs to stick around, misfortune or not.

3.25/4 stars

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is now playing at the Art Theater.


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