The plot of this film adaptation of John Le Carre's book, centres around two themes. Firstly,spy master George Smiley's hunt for a mole or traitor within the upper echelons of British Intelligence, nicknamed The Circus. Secondly,Smiley's own unstated ambition to return to a position of power in the Circus,after being forced into early retirement by a rival faction within the Circus. The tying together of both strands of the story,involves multiple flashbacks,interviews with different characters about their previous missions,dialogue and anecdotes full of Circus jargon and gossip that often conceals as much as it reveals This build up of seemingly irrelevant detail made the novel initially confusing for some people,including myself to read. Much the same could be said about the current film version of the novel.
if you are anticipating a thriller with graphic sex scenes or car chases or James Bond style action, Tinker,Tailor,soldier,Spy is not that genre of film.Much of the violence except for one or two brief scenes is understated,occurs off stage and the audience mainly hears about it, from characters who experienced or provoke it. Several scenes do have what might be called typical cinematic action belonging to a thriller, such as the opening segment, in which field agent Jim Prideaux is shot in the back,or Smiley's protege Peter Gulliam attempting to steal departmental files on Smiley's behalf from their own colleagues. Those who have not read the book will have to listen closely to understand the reasons why the two actions mentioned above are even connected,and for that reason may find the film as irritating to view as some find the book is to read.
Most importantly this film requires the audience to focus on the actors and the characters they play. Gary Oldman notable for his often scene stealing villainous performances in his previous films, and particularly for playing the best Dracula of all time, here plays a different kind of deadly protagonist,George Smiley, who is not flamboyant or fierce some at all. Smiley moves quietly, and is not prone to violence. He barely raises his voice in interrogations, and the closest he comes to an act of violence, is to load his gun ready for possible danger. His performance is a triumph of minimalism, with his tiniest gestures used to suggest features of his characters. Spies don't like to reveal too much about themselves,or even say much, and Smiley has that much in common with at least three out of his four main opponents in the film, one of whom is the mole
We do not get to know much about the inner lives of each of the four suspects, and because they do not say much, we are dependent on camera close ups to infer what little we can know about them. To learn too much about them would make the mole's identity too obvious to the audience, destroying the film ' s ending. The identity of the mole is revealed visually to us very casually at the climax, just as it is in a similar fashion in the book,but there is a strong hint implicit in the casting of a certain actor for those who have not read the book,on which character he likely Is. In a similar way a Dorian Grey reference in the book on Le Carre's part, offers readers a hint as to his identity. Director Tomas Alfredson directs the film leisurely, attempting to capture the same feelings of understated violence and menace of the Cold War that exist in the novel
To sum up,some will find the film engrossing while others might find it tedious and boring. Both perspectives conceivably represent what the real Cold War in the seventies was actually like. The book will help some understand the film , and the film will help others understand the book,if so inclined. Reading the book for the second time before seeing the film,was a more enjoyable experience than my first reading of it thirty years ago. This film has a more ambitious feel to it than Le Carre's iconic The Spy who Came in from the Cold, but that does not necessarily make it better.