Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyI went into this film pretty much blind, with the knowledge that it had received universal praise from reviewers. I have to admit I expected it to be a cold war spy thriller, and while, technically, it is that, what it truly is is a slow, cold character study of the ruin caused by spying on the character's lives. On some level one could even call it a satire of Spooks.
The film opens fairly excitingly, with a spy sent off to get information on a mole, and a mission gone wrong. We then see Control (I was never clear as to whether this was his code name, or had the greatest spy name ever) get ousted, along with George Smiley, played by Gary Oldman. The film then takes several minutes to show Smiley's empty, dull retirement. During which period, there is absolutely no dialogue. Smiley does not utter a word throughout all of this, his face offering very little as he settles into a routine without life.
If one had, as I had, been expecting a spy thriller, even a classic one, one could easily be disappointed. This is not a film that paces itself up to modern standards. It takes its time, and it feels like quite a while until Smiley finally goes into action. But as a character study, its terrific. As the story unfolds, you see everyone's lives unravel. Even those with more exciting backgrounds, like Tom Hardy or Cumberbatch's character, find themselves ruined by contact to spying.
One of the key speeches is given by Oldman, recollecting what he had said to Kara, the name for the head of the Russian spies. In it he outlines the dangers of the life they lead, and the emptiness of alleigance. It was meant to be persuading Kara, but its clearly depicting Smiley's feelings on the matter.
There are some great performances here. John Hurt as Control is hilariously angry, Tom Hardy is just blindingly charismatic, and Oldman is of course brilliant. The plot is not what will keep you going here. The denoument is understated, and fairly predictable, and there are some weird turns (seriously, owl murder? What?) along the way. But as a taking apart of the spy lifestyle as heroic or exciting, its spot on.