Five Things About Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I recently saw Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. Again.

This adaptation of John Le Carre’s espionage novel is one of my favorite films from last year and one of the few I actually want to watch again. (There are not that many. 2011 was such a meh year for movies.) Director Tomas Alfredson and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema have made an exceptionally well-crafted film. And then there is Gary Oldman; his performance as George Smiley is quietly powerful and those are the best kind of performances. These are a few thoughts about what stood out to me about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy the second time around.

1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is packed with multiple plot lines and characters, some who appear for seemingly no reason. This is almost too overwhelming and distracting the first time you watch the movie. At times, the film’s pacing feels a little rushed because the writers were trying to condense and cram so much into a two hour window. I’ve read that the 1979 BBC miniseries is a better adaptation of the novel. Given the length of the feature film compared to the length of the miniseries, this isn’t a surprising observation.

2. Seeing this film a second time allowed me to focus less on the plot and more on the film’s style. Much of Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is about how it looks compared to other spy thrillers. The composition of every shot oozes with a 70s style. This is by far my favorite aspect of the film.

3. Alberto Iglesias’ score for Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is a delight, perfectly fitting with the action on the screen.

Iglesias also composed the score for The Skin I Live In. These are two of the best scores from 2011.


4. The song played during Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy‘s final moments is Julio Iglesias’ “La Mer”. It is a noticeable change from Iglesias’ score and even from the opening sequence that the finale more or less replicates. The addition of “La Mer”, which Alfredson described as “everything that the world of MI6 isn’t”,  to the finale gives a sense that the Circus is about to change for the better. This feeling might also have to do with the fact that George Smiley is at the helm.


5. When analyzing performance in film, more credit is given to flashy roles than is deserved. Almost as if the more dialogue an actor has the better. But when a character is silent and their actions are more subdued, the performance is more easily forgotten. Gary Oldman’s performance is restrained. George Smiley shows little emotion and only raises his voice once. His job as a spy (and why he is an effective one) is to listen and fall into the background. Oldman was interviewed on Fresh Air yesterday and this same point came up. This is how Oldman describes Smiley:

He listens. He sees everything and he hears everything but there’s an action in the listening in a ways it’s very active. It’s not just with the ears. It’s a complete physical thing with Smiley. He’s very, very restrained emotional. He is the spymaster. He has been over his career a wonderful interrogator and this is what makes him dangerous. He’s the leopard in the foliage, in the jungle. He’s the one you don’t see coming.

This is why, for me, Oldman’s performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy stands out. I’ll remember it far longer than any other acting performances this year.

Are you as fixated on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as I am? Or did you not care for it? Should Gary Oldman be winning all of the awards? Or is that just me being crazy? Sound off below.


9 thoughts on “Five Things About Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

  1. With so much information being thrown at us, I wish that there was much more time for all of it to just sink in but I liked the fact that the film made you pay attention to every little detail as this story just kept building and building. Everybody here in this cast is great too, especially Oldman who perfectly brings this flick together. Good review.

  2. Definitely one of the best Spy Thriller movies made. Superb style and set, acting (in particular Oldman) and music score. Combined – a piece of art that works! One of those gripping, deep and complex movies that is actually better the second time around.

  3. Reblogged this on kymberspassionateworries and commented:
    I just loved this movie. Complex, Artsy, I had it to watch it twice (ok, three times), I love movies that you have to return to. Beautifully filmed in the early 70’s with Gary Oldman, Bennedict Clusterfucker and Colin Firth, I just the Brits. La Mer the song at the end will make you look it up on YouTube as I did…maybe…watch it, it’s still running on HBO.

  4. I saw this film three times and loved it, especially the early 70s feel (I well remember the early 70s). The plot is complex and it took me two viewings to pick up a number of the details but the rich variety of characters, all of them well portrayed, carried me through any occasional misunderstandings. The song “La Mer” at the end is one of the highlights. I could not get the tune out of my head for days! A fine film.

  5. I just watched this movie and then watched it again. I totally loved this film and I am not fond of spy movies. This is a gritty, 70’s style film and the ending is unforgettable. You must watch it multiple times to get the full effect. It is so rich with characters, storylines, and a terrific cast. The choice of Julio Inglesia’s song, La Mer was perfect. The movie and Oldman should have won Academy awards–I don’t know how they didn’t. I am hooked on getting the dvd of the movie and I just ordered the original recording (LP) with the song.

  6. Agreed!
    I watched it in the cinema in September 2011 and didn’t have a clue what was going on.
    Bought it in DVD yesterday (18/4/16) for £2 from HMV and I was engrossed.
    The song at the end is solid too!
    Haven’t seen The Artist yet so can’t say Oldman deserved the Oscar over Jean Dujardin.

  7. Watched it again last night on film 4 for the 3rd time. Just gets better as does appreciation of the cast.
    La mer was some finale.
    Gary Oldman and Toby Jones really excel.

  8. Would you believe I just rewatched this twice in 2016?… this is after watching it once originally when the film was first released. I went on the net to research more LeCarré novels, the trilogy – perhaps Tomas Alfredson or another might film the others? or perhaps since Tinker, Tailor… was the strongest it might be the only one produced. I don’t know, but I am thinking about reading the 3 books. But I agree w/ assessments as to the outstanding Gary Oldman’s performance, watching the third time, he is on point w/ every move or inflection, those quiet ones that are so hard to do authentically. I loved him as Dracula and in True Romance. But I also looked for La Mer and the part about it giving the ending a bit of a jaunty upbeat vibe I agree with, but I was also taken with how, at the Xmas party, Colin Firth’s character uses a moment to pass a meaningful, flirty look at Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) giving him what finally hits, are not just “we’re pals” that I took them for throughout the film but Prideaux’s longing for him, stoked by Firth’s deceitful mole character, yet another one he blinds with a cocktail of sex & mistaken love. The music, La Mer, was also perfect for the flirtation there, as the emotions in Prideaux builds, as Strong’s performance so achingly reveals – I hurt for him and I felt for his broken heart and understood his reasons for killing him –for his treachery on so many levels. Yes, there were many moments in this movie where the rich tapestry of characters carefully woven together seems to finally create the larger picture in the final denouement. You are right about viewing more than once. I confess in the first viewing, I had enough trouble keeping even names straight.

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