'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' commands, demands attention

January 6, 2012 

Set in the 1970s at the height of the Cold War, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a taut thriller about a British spy unit with a problem.

One of the senior members is a Russian spy. Gary Oldman’s George Smiley is charged with ferreting him out.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

Oldman gets a rare chance to play a character that isn’t a crazed psychopath or power-hungry villain. George Smiley is intelligent, quiet and — best of all for Oldman — low-key. When given a chance to actually act, Oldman is quite good.

The supporting crew is equal to the task, too. Oscar winner Colin Firth, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds and scene-stealing Benedict Cumberbatch fill in the blanks.

Acting doesn’t get much better than this.

You can cut the tension in director Tomas Alfredson’s thriller with a knife — and that’s before or after it ends up in the back of this peripheral character or that. He does this one in the grim, grainy, darkly lit style of his original version of Let the Right One In. Some scenes are bone-chilling and make you want to snug up your coat to keep out the cold. And those are just the indoor scenes.

Fans of John le Carre’s novel, and who have read the book or caught the 1979 British mini-series will have no trouble tracking things. The rest of you will. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has a bunch of critical characters. Each is a consequential cog contributing important clues to le Carre’s complex plot. You may wish for a scorecard or at least a notebook to keep track of who’s who and who did what to whom.

You expect a spy thriller or whodunnit to be complicated and packed with the tantalizing clues. However, it shouldn’t be so much work that remembering the clues and following the story is a struggle. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an effort. Concentrate and you’ll keep up. Let the mind wander for a split-second and you’re lost.

The effort is worth it. This is a great movie. Just not an easy one.

Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars

Rated R for violence, nudity, language, violence. It opens Friday, Jan. 6 at Regal’s Columbia Center 8 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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