In many ways, young adults of this day and age have fallen victim to the development of the 21st century. Films and television shows have become canvasses for the latest and greatest pyrotechnics, a competition of who can fit the most explosions into a two hour span while maintaining some semblance of a plot. As one such victim, I have had difficulty embracing the truly moving works of today, too desensitized by J.J. Abrams to recognize the beauty of subtlety. That said, I have been following the production of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for two years now, and even as I navigated through IMDB in my numb state, I could sense the greatness of this particular project.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy begins with a very 70s motif; in fact, one of the highlights of the film is its cinematography. We follow George Smiley’s (Gary Oldman) files as they travel through chutes and elevators following his forced retirement, and we find ourselves becoming agents, gathering the secrets of British Intelligence seeping through the walls. One such secret, as suspected by the head of B.I., known as Control (John Hurt), is that one of the four senior figures within the agency may in fact be a Russian spy. Following the death of Control and the shooting of agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), Smiley is recruited to investigate the matter of the mole at the top of the Circus. The presence of the mole is made clear by former agent Ricky Tarr. Tom Hardy plays the young, naive agent gone rogue after falling in love with a Russian spy who shares her knowledge of the mole within the British intelligence apparatus. Tarr’s longing to be accepted as a serious man and a successful agent is palpable, and throughout Hardy’s performance I couldn’t help but vacillate on whom I thought was stealing this show, Oldman or Hardy. As Smiley’s work carries on, we find that in trying to track down the mole before his death, Control had assigned code names for each of the suspects. And as it turns out, all of them are guilty of consorting with the enemy, more formally known as Karla, the Soviet head. Smiley finds success in discovering Haydon as the mole and in his defense, Haydon’s line of the movie says it all, “I’m someone who has made his mark.”
The tumultuous and detailed plot requires a second watch, and deserves more recognition than I can give it. But each shot and each frame are methodical, mirroring the way that a British Intelligence agent would have worked, and in the same way that Oldman, with quiet intensity, embodies Smiley’s identity completely.
It seems that Oldman and Smiley are more alike than one could have imagined. Oldman has stated on numerous occasions that this is his role of a lifetime, and it feels to me as if he almost looks up to and continues to try and emulate Smiley. Just like his character, he is a true British man, captivating with his delightful accent. Perhaps my favorite response from Oldman, while discussing the idea of how war has changed over time, is “The world’s a mess … and it’s perfect. It always has been.”