So which is it? The tinker? The tailor? The soldier? Or the spy?
Every now and then, a genre movie is released that just perfectly captures every part of the category it represents whilst somehow elevating the whole in the process. Tinker Tailor is one of those films. Yes, it's a remake (and no, I haven't seen the original) but I think it actually benefits from that fact, for once. Being a remake, and being set during the Cold War, enables the film to portray a more gentile side of espionage. It's a spy movie with incredibly high stakes, and it almost entirely takes place in the concrete streets of London. There are almost no gunfights, no big explosions, no ridiculous gadgets. There aren't even all that many plot twists, given that the central mystery is set up in the first scene and pondered throughout the run time.
Yet that slower pace and more familiar surroundings allows Tinker Tailor to really play with suspense, to draw the audience in, and to keep you guessing constantly. That our main character, so brilliantly played by Gary Oldman, is not above suspicion, nor is he a preternaturally gifted investigator, just adds layers and layers to the plot. Instead, his slow, methodical methods slowly unravel a genuinely well-crafted mystery. Of course, it's a clever conceit as well because it allows the audience to learn about facts when the storyteller wants them to, but that is the hallmark of the mystery thriller.
Woven in amongst all of this is not just a brilliant cast with some excellent performances from the likes of Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Toby Jones, but a riveting tale of the points where bureaucracy meets espionage meets old-fashioned British idealism of the gentry. MI6 are hardly the heroes of the tale, but then the Kremlin isn't exactly the clear villain either. The ultimate reveal isn't met with the discovery of a deep and sinister plot, but a rather dull desire for personal glory and ideology. Some of the best scenes involve navigating office politics or discussions on the ethics of informants, and the ending is resolute in not tieing everything together in a neat ribbon and saying it's all resolved. Innocent people die. Complicit people are not held accountable. And through it all we trudge, slowly and surely, to the inevitable finish line to find out, well, which is it?
The tinker? The tailor? The soldier? Or the spy?