Oscar Profile: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

by Tom Ingram

Genre Spy
People Gary Oldman; Colin Firth; Tom Hardy; Mark Strong; Benedict Cumberbatch; Toby Jones; John Hurt; John le Carre w.a.
/10 6

After being forced to resign during a British Intelligence leadership coup, George Smiley is asked by the government to investigate accusations of a Soviet mole in the upper echelons.

I’ve not read John le Carre’s novel on which this movie is based, though it is apparently a much-loved classic. I can’t speak for it. That said, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a dreary film, a limp collage of serious men scowling against a background grey English skies.

It might be in part because it focuses on people who gather intelligence without much reference to what they gather intelligence about. Tinker, Tailor‘s British Intelligence is an orphaned node staffed by jaded people who play the game for its own sake, not because it has any intrinsic use or value. The characters are all weary; I don’t see why we shouldn’t be.

Or perhaps it’s the glacial pacing. There must be at least fifteen cumulative minutes of plotless shots of people staring pensively into middle distance. The film is a lot longer than most two-hour movies, and would have profited by a trim. The cinematography and editing to little to maintain attention. It’s supposed to have an atmosphere of paranioa, but this is no Three Days of the Condor. Alberto Iglesias’s score does not help much, and is so unremarkable I can’t imagine why it was nominated.

Gary Oldman’s Smiley is good, and he disappears into the role as usual. However, I respectfully submit that it does not take much skill to play an emotionally stunted robot; I do it effortlessly all day long. The acting isn’t bad—there’s a strong team of British vets in the lead roles—but the principals have no character to get to the heart of. The film is as impersonal and soulless as The French Connection, without the sense that the director did it intentionally to make a point. The most lively character here is John Hurt’s control chief, who dies after his first few scenes.

My impression of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is positive on balance, but only slightly. It’s not remarkable enough to deserve a win in any of its three categories, and I have to wonder if it really deserved the nominations.

Up for:

  • Best Actor (Oldman)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay (Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, from the novel by John le Carre)
  • Best Original Score (Alberto Iglesias)