The Cold War was a fruitful inspiration for many spy thrillers back in the days. John le Carré's books about MI6 were amongst the more successful. Some of them have been made into films, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with Richard Burton probably being the most popular. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has already been made into TV series with Sir Alec Guinness in the main part. So the new version has some big shoes to fill.
The protagonist George Smiley is everything that James Bond is not: plain, quiet and working in an office. The movie is centered on his attempt to uncover a double agent in the higher echelons of MI6, or the Circus as its personnel address it. The movie is directed by Tomas Alfredson, who did Let the Right One In. He brought in the project cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, his collaborator on Let the Right One In. Van Hoytema also more recently shot The Fighter. As expected, the film is carefully crafted.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an old school Cold War spy drama both in themes and technique. It is a slow film which takes its time thus recalling the cinema of the 70's, which, incidentally, is when the story is set. The cast features a lot of top British actors: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, to name a few. This shows in the movie: it is an excellent example of a great ensemble cast elevating the end result. Gary Oldman has a heavy task in the role of Smiley, competing with the previous work of Alec Guinness. He does a wonderful job even though his character doesn't talk much and he can most accurately be described as unnoticeable and plain. In fact, his lack of verbosity is so present that when at a later point he relates an event from the past in some detail, it serves as a counter point. Benedict Cumberbatch as Smiley's assistant also deserves a special mention.
The movie conjures a very strong image of London of the 70's. The atmosphere is almost a character of its own. The film has a brownish grey desaturated look; London of this film is not a colorful place for sure. Characters are often portrayed from a distance. Long lenses are the main workhorse, resulting in abundance of shallow depth of field. All this gives a detached view on the subjects and conveys a sense of suspicion and paranoia. Everyone is watching someone and is being watched themselves.
In conclusion, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of the best movies of the year 2011. It is meticulously directed, wonderfully played and masterfully shot. And all of this with an almost nostalgic nod to the cinema of old. It is a movie one can't often see these days and a film that the awards season will most likely ignore. So treat yourself and go watch it in a movie theater if you can.