Soldiers may enlist for ideological reasons, but, officers say, they actually fight to protect their brothers at their sides. The quiet but intense spy thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy exports this phenomenon to the world of shadow soldiers, spies working in secret during the height of the Cold War.
Gary Oldman stars as Smiley, a senior spy in Britain's MI6 in the 1970s. With his boss Control (John Hurt), Smiley is forced into early retirement after a disastrous mission in Budapest leaves a compatriot dead. As he faces empty rooms in his house-his wayward wife has left him-another operative surfaces. He was believed to have turned sides, but his desperate tale of a mole at the highest levels of the MI6 leads Smiley to investigate his old friends and colleagues.
With bleak settings and careful attention to detail, the film evokes the feeling of the 1970s without camp or nostalgia. Oldman skillfully plays Smiley as taciturn and reserved, following the tone set by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson. Silence is almost a character in itself. The heart of the story is told through pursed lips, a narrowing of the eyes, and a slight hunch of the shoulders. No grand speeches or huge explosions here. These British spies play their cards close to the chest.
Based on the novel by John le Carré, the story focuses on friendship and camaraderie, and the betrayal they enable. Cold War geo-political loyalties pale in comparison to personal affinities, rivalries, and respect. Smiley repeatedly recalls a party, shown as a flashback, when all his colleagues sang, drank, and wished each other Merry Christmas, even as one of them was working for the others' destruction.
Rated R for violence, some sexuality, and language, this movie isn't as graphic or shocking as many R movies. It starts slow, and a bit confusing for those not familiar with the novels, but builds to intensity, creating a taut, sinister spy story for grown-ups.