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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

By
Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Source: AmericanCatholic.org

Spy master John La Carre’ wrote seven novels featuring George Smiley the head of British intelligence agency MI6, the “Circus”, during the Cold War. The final three novels put Karla, head of Moscow’s spy ring, in opposition to Smiley. If director Tomas Alfredson’s cinematic interpretation of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is successful perhaps the other two, “The Honorable Schoolboy: and “Smiley’s People” will follow.  (Television viewers may recall Alec Guinness in the BBC version of this new film.)
 
Gary Oldman plays Smiley who is forced into retirement when a British agent’s plan to bring in a key contact in Budapest ends in disaster. Word is out that there is a mole in the Circus and when the agents fail to discover him, Smiley is brought back to work his spy magic and reveal the traitor.
 
The inspiration for La Carre’s stories is based on “The Cambridge Five”, British citizens who spied for Moscow during the 1950s and 1960s.
 
I have never found La Carre’ spy stories particularly easy to read, so I have not read the Smiley series. I seem to always get lost in his convoluted plots.  “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” as a film, however, is a dark thriller told through flashbacks and flash forwards that held my attention all the way through.  Spying was a more simple craft in the days when there were only two super powers trying to outwit the other, each with a finger on atomic weapons. There is a twist in the film that adds an emotional dimension that reflects the Cambridge connection again.
 
Ultimately the theme is about patriotism, loyalty, and betrayal on the level of the individual and one’s country, and between countries with the same goals. It is very well acted and worthy of seeing for the performances and quality of direction if nothing else. I think the appeal is to fans of La Carre’ and anyone who is nostalgic for the old days of the Cold War genre in literature and film. It was an era that gave rise to the global situation today that is far more volatile and dangerous and solutions complicated by unbridled globalization that marginalizes the poor and makes borders meaningless.
 
-SPOILER ALERT-
  But here’s the problem with “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” as a movie. If you load a film with a cast made up of the usual suspects, that is, the most recognizable actors in British cinema today, you will know within the first ten minutes or less who the bad guy is – just by process of elimination.  It is still an okay movie; it’s just that filmmakers have to realize that audiences are a lot smarter than they think we are. The Cold War is pretty old hat, though a good mystery always satisfies.


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