Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy comes to us with an impressive pedigree. Director Tomas Alfredson previously directed a critically, and publicly acclaimed vampire movie Let the Right One In, a foreign language movie, now remade as Let Me In starring Chloe Moretz. If you don't mind subtitles I highly recommend it, and the remake which is also very good.
Colin Firth won the Oscar last year. Gary Oldman, got nominated for an Oscar for this role. Mark Strong gave a great performance in The Guard, and Ciaran Hinds excels in playing spies, as in The Debt, and Munich.
If you're like me you have neither read the book, nor seen the series starring Alec Guinness, so my experience of watching it fresh might be a good indicator.
I probably would not have seen it if I did not accidentally meet someone in the movie business, who had seen Gary Oldman and the director do a presentation at their campus.
When asked how he would like playing a stoic character, as opposed to his often passionate characters, he said he had waited thirty years to play a role like this, that often actors don't get to pick and choose their parts, but take what is offered and to put food on the table, and hope one day...
As the movie begins, we become aware of a 'mole' at the circus, and an agent played by Mark Strong is sent to Hungary for a secret meeting to discover who it is. When complications arise retired agent, the stoic George Smiley played by Gary Oldman is brought out of unscheduled retirement to find the mole, the spy who despises his fellow spies. It's like a game of chess, with chess symbolism, where we read between the lines both of unfurling events, and Smiley's furrowed brows to gauge the churning depths that stoic masks.
He has a wife we never see, who cheats on him, and we anticipate a break in that stoic exterior, so as a study of character acting by Oldman this is a wonder to behold. In a way this movie sets out to be deliberately dull, somewhat the antithesis of the impression you get from a Bond movie, these men are bureaucrats, they ironically sing the Russian national anthem at office parties, not much seems to happen, they're not particularly interesting or handsome, with one or two exceptions, then the action livens up with an intrigue, betrayal and occasional murder.
When the finger of suspicion points different ways, the 'circus' people suspected get very nervous, knowing full well what the outcome of that suspicion will be.
As I sat very close to the screen, close enough to see the dots, I noticed the rather grainy footage like the detail of movies set in that era, the 70s. While I enjoyed it overall, this is definitely a more cerebral movie than say Bond, in fact it reminded me somewhat of The Good Shepherd, a movie I love, starring Matt Damon but which has gained mixed reviews. I think they were expecting The Bourne identity, instead of backroom antics at the CIA, the other circus.
Several people around me left the movie early on, did not give it a chance, a yuppie sitting next to me, clearly on an early date, started immediately checking his iphone for other movie showings, was annoying, and thankfully they left shortly after to see a different movie. So this is not perhaps a date movie.
I would say that I did not understand everything, some detail was lost I think in reducing this to a two hour movie. For instance, he gets a lighter from Magda,which seems important, who I assume was a woman but apparently was not. From an acting viewpoint, everybody gives a strong perofrmance, from a directing viewpoint, if you're like me you probably want more action, then it would not be what it is.
I am now curious to check out the original with Alec Guinness. I think fans of Gary Oldman and/or Le Carre's original story will love it, and a varied response among other people. The movie also got nominated for an Oscar for best adapted screenplay.
I hope this was helpful.