Critics’ Response: ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ starring Gary Oldman a riveting and intelligent espionage thriller

Premiering at the 68th Annual Venice International Film Festival today, director Tomas Alfredson’s new political thriller “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” has received enthusiastic early notices from critics, with reviews heaping particular praise on both Gary Oldman’s understated lead performance and assured direction by Alfredson.

The film is an adaptation of the 1974 John le Carre novel about secret agent George Smiley (Oldman), who comes out of semi-retirement to uncover the identity of a Soviet mole working within “The Circus”, the highest level of Britain’s Mi6 intelligence agency. Other cast members include Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, and John Hurt. It is the English-language debut of Swedish director Alfredson, who made a big splash Stateside in 2008 with “Let the Right One In”.

In a 4/5-star review, the Guardian’s Xan Brooks calls “Tinker, Tailor” the “film to beat” at this year’s festival, singling out Oldman’s “deliciously delicate, shaded performance”. His only criticism concerns the relative transparency of the plot’s central mystery, stating: “If there is any flaw to the film, it’s that the whistle is blown too soon and that some eagle-eyed George Smiley types are liable to identity the bad apple before Smiley does himself.”

Over at Variety, Leslie Felpering praises Alfredson’s “flair for suspense” and predicts healthy box-office for the film, indicating the period piece could resonate with contemporary audiences given the current political climate: “In the wake of corruption scandals that include the world banking crisis, this version of ‘Tinker, Tailor’ catches the newest wave of disillusionment and anxiety. It may be a period piece…but it feels painfully apt now to revisit the early-to-mid-1970s, when things were just about to fall apart.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s Deborah Young, on the other hand, thinks the film actually “risks feeling out of date” with its Cold War backdrop, but nevertheless praises the look of the film and Alfredson’s unique directing style: “It is one of the few films so visually absorbing, felicitous shot after shot, that its emotional coldness is noticed only at the end, when all the plot twists are unraveled in a solid piece of thinking-man”s entertainment for upmarket thriller audiences.”

David Gritten of the Telegraph awarded the film a perfect 5/5 stars, giving it good odds of being a major contender come awards season: “It”s possible another film may soon emerge to spearhead Britain”s assault on the coming awards season. But after the world premiere here at the Venice Film Festival of ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy’, it would be a huge surprise.”

Perhaps the least enthusiastic of all early reviewers is Thompson on Hollywood’s Matt Mueller, who still liked the film overall but echoed Brooks in believing the “whodunit” element will be too easily solved by astute viewers: “Fans of the genre will finger the culprit early and without that added layer of suspicion, the big reveal is left feeling perfunctory, almost blasé. Minus that last cathartic gasp, ‘Tinker Tailor Solder Spy’ settles for being a very good as opposed to a superb spy thriller.”

Based on these early reviews, I’d say it sounds like Oldman has a good chance of scoring an Oscar nod next year…

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is set to premiere in U.S. theaters on December 9th courtesy of Focus Features.