Gary Oldman, who plays the British agent George Smiley, is the center of the film. He’s been farmed out of the MI5, the British secret service, forcefully retired, but he very quickly finds out that a “mole” may be hidden within the MI5. This mole is passing sensitive information to the Soviets, and through a lower-level agent, Smiley starts to unravel the machinations of the betrayal. Needless to say, it goes to the very top. Because it is a spy mystery, I’ll say no more about the plot, but I will warn you to pay attention. Though you can get through the film and figure out the gist of it while missing some of the details, you’ll have a richer experience if you can decipher their cold war spy-speak and piece the outlines of the plot together during the non-talking parts of the film.
Those moments are many. The film perfectly evokes a gray, drab, depressing 1970s-era Britain, with bad clothes, bad hair, bad teeth and shabby apartments. Of course, it’s always overcast or raining. They may have actually filmed this in Romania or Albania or something to capture Britain as it was 40 years ago. Oldman – the same guy who played Sid Vicious in SID & NANCY a mere 25 years ago – is made to look even older than he actually is here. He, like the film, moves slowly and methodically, and never once cracks a smile. The one time he raises his voice, near the end of the film, you’re shocked that he can actually do so. He’ll be nominated for many awards for this performance, and I like his chances.
“TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” is a fine way to fritter away your money while the in-laws are in town. Barring that, Hedonist Jive recommends a rental in 2012.