, Port Arthur, Texas

Movie Guy

January 6, 2012

‘Tinker’ over-stuffed but satisfying spy story

— Most spy movies are adrenaline-fueled action thrill rides that are stuffed with car chases, gunfire and brutal fist fights. They make for great popcorn entertainment, but there’s another type of spy movie: one that’s more of a cerebral puzzle than a physical endeavor. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is one of these films; a superb espionage tale that will delight fans of great acting and complicated plotting. Then again, fans of “Mission Impossible” or James Bond style spy thrillers will probably be completely bored here.

Based on John Le Carré’s 1974 best-seller, “Tinker” delves into the murky waters of MI6, the British Intelligence Service, also known in the film as “The Circus.” The extremely complicated story involves the efforts of one retired agent (Gary Oldman) to uncover the identity of a Soviet spy who’s working as a high-level agent in MI6. Make sure that you go to the restroom before the movie starts, because the plot is so complex that if you have to leave the theater for any reason, you might not be able to catch up on what’s going on in the movie.

That complexity is both a pro and a con for the film. On the one hand, it’s wonderful to see a movie that demands that the audience pay attention to what’s going on in the film. Then again, there’s so much story that the film feels over-stuffed. Two hours is simply not enough time to get it all in. Indeed, many people prefer the six-hour mini-series from 1979 because it was able to parse out the information in a more controlled manner than this new film.

The mini-series is also notable for starring Alec Guinness, but the new “Tinker” certainly features a superb group as well. Oldman headlines the cast, but John Hurt, Cirian Hinds, Toby Jones and Tom Hardy round out one of the best ensemble casts of the year. There’s not a bad performance among the bunch, and “Tinker” doesn’t lower its standards by casting a hot young actor to draw in the teenagers. These are mostly old men, old lions of the British stage and screen, and their abilities are clearly evident in this film.

Ultimately it will be that distinction that should inform your decision about whether you want to see this film or not. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” isn’t exciting or visually overwhelming, and it never tries to wow the audience with anything other than great acting and a thinking-person’s story. I think that makes for a great film, certainly one of the best of the year, but I understand why teenagers would look at me and think that this old man of a film critic has gone crazy. 

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at

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