A thrilling 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as "Peter Guillam" in Focus Benedict Cumberbatch stars as "Peter Guillam" in Focus Features release of Tomas Alfredson's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" released widely by Focus Features in Dec. 2011. Photo Credit: Jack English/

advertisement | advertise on newsday

REVIEW

PLOT: In 1973, a retired agent returns to MI6 to hunt down a highly placed mole.

BOTTOM LINE: A smart, cool, compelling spy-thriller with top-notch performances and a surprisingly powerful ending.

CAST: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong.

LENGTH: 2:08

It was fun watching Tom Cruise scale a Dubai high-rise in the latest "Mission: Impossible," but I'm pretty sure the life of a secret agent looks more like "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," a richly detailed adaptation of the cynical, sorrowful 1974 novel by former British intelligence officer David Cornwell, aka John le Carre. No high-tech bungee jumping here, just dueling bureaucracies and vaguely dissimilar ideologies -- and some of the steeliest assassins may be your own ladder-climbing colleagues.

The year is 1973, the Cold War has hardened to permafrost and office politics at Britain's MI6 -- "the circus," as it's unaffectionately called -- has truncated the long career of agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman). But the death of agency honcho Control (John Hurt) reveals that Soviet mastermind Karla (unseen, symbolically) has acquired a high-level British mole. Smiley is rehired to suss him out.

What follows is a tightly woven web of shoe-leather detective work, gentlemanly cloak-and-dagger and some brutally nasty business, but "Tinker, Tailor" is driven mainly by its characters, each concisely drawn and perfectly, often movingly, played. Oldman's Smiley is sublime, almost ghostly -- and more world-weary than Alec Guinness in the 1979 BBC miniseries -- but other standouts include Tom Hardy as a low-level dirty worker, Colin Firth as a chummy golden boy and Mark Strong as a self-sacrificing field agent. Benedict Cumberbatch is very good as an intriguingly altered version of Smiley's younger protege, agent Peter Guillam.

The movie's handsome look -- all modernist offices and state-of-the-art tape decks -- has a certain retro appeal, but Swedish director Tomas Alfredson ("Let the Right One In") infuses every scene with calm, muted menace. He also executes a masterful closing sequence that ties up nearly a dozen loose ends -- all without a word. "Tinker, Tailor" packs an unexpected emotional punch, a secret weapon most spy thrillers forget to hide up their sleeves.PLOT In 1973, a retired agent returns to MI6 to hunt down a highly-placed mole.


advertisement | advertise on newsday

PLOT In 1973, a retired agent returns to MI6 to hunt down a highly placed mole. RATING R (violence, language, nudity)

CAST Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong.

@Newsday

LENGTH 2:08.

PLAYING AT Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington

BOTTOM LINE A smart, cool, compelling spy-thriller with top-notch performances and a surprisingly powerful ending.

Coming soon: Newsday's Entertainment newsletter, for the latest on celebs, TV, more.

You also may be interested in: