No one scales a skyscraper in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. No one walks coolly away from an explosion. Barely a gunshot is fired.
However, despite all this, or maybe because of it, this adaptation of John le Carre’s celebrated tale of espionage and intrigue is a bracing and gripping thriller, a compelling counterpoint to the secret agent yarns featuring the likes of Bond and Bourne.
Le Carre’s novel, inspired and informed by his own time in the spy game, has been brought to the screen once before, and the 1979 BBC miniseries that starred Alec Guinness as veteran intelligence agent George Smiley was such a quietly and subtly engrossing piece of work that a new version, even three decades on, might have seemed redundant.
But a terrific story like Tinker Tailor is of course open to varying interpretations, and this film does a superb job of not only streamlining the ’70s-era story but deftly exploring new angles and avenues in a way that sheds new light.
It’s top work by screenwriters Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, and Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson (the justly acclaimed Let the Right One In) brings it to the screen with an understatement and elegance that initially disguises its ever-escalating tension.
And having a high-calibre cast of some of the finest British actors currently working – among them Colin Firth, John Hurt, Inception’s Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch (so good as TV’s Sherlock Holmes) doesn’t hurt either.
First among equals, though, is Gary Oldman, taking on the role of Smiley and tamping down his considerable charisma and entertaining flair for overstatement to convincingly portray a man for whom restraint is a key trait and a vital skill.
Semi-retired from intelligence agency MI6 (dubbed ‘the Circus’ by those in the know), Smiley is brought back into the fold when it becomes apparent that there’s a traitor in the highest ranks of the organisation.
It’s Smiley’s brief to flush out the mole but it soon becomes evident that the Circus is a tangled web of dubious alliances, hidden agendas and betrayals that go beyond the professional into the personal.
Escapism is not on Tinker Tailor’s mind. This is not a clear-cut, us-versus-them yarn with an ending that puts all things right.
Instead, it’s a tense, thoughtful tale that views love as a vulnerability and trust as a weapon. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy will stick with you for its two-hour running time, and stay with you much longer afterwards.