The story is perfectly set up: after a botched mission, the head of MI6, known as Control, is booted out of the agency along with his number-one man, Smiley. Soon after the shakeup, a government official approaches Smiley to take on a uniquely challenging assignment: to find a mole who has worked his way to the highest echelon of the service. Who can it be?
Having portrayed so many flamboyant, far-out characters over the years, Oldman might seem an unusual choice for Smiley, but as usual he has transformed himself completely, and his stillness speaks volumes. This is a perfectly-measured performance. (It may not erase many people’s memories of Alec Guinness in the role, but that’s unavoidable.) He is surrounded by an exceptional and well-chosen ensemble led by John Hurt, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds, David Dencik, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O’Connor have managed to incorporate a daunting amount of detail into their screenplay…but if your concentration wanes, even for a moment, you may lose your way. The sheer accumulation of incidents makes the film’s occasional lethargy all the more noticeable. But the essence of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is found in the big picture, not the specifics. As director Alfredson says in a published note, “I think we’ve made a film about loyalty and ideals, values that are extremely relevant—perhaps mostly because they are so rare these days?”