Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I found this movie highly competent, but disappointing. It starts with a routine cold war spy-movie premise (the mole is one of five senior guys in British intelligence) and does very little with it. It does absolutely nothing to subvert our expectations. Yes, one of them is the mole, as expected, so there are no surprises, and:

1. You don't really care which one is guilty because you don't get to know them at all. I didn't even really know which was which except that they are played by five actors with distinctly different physical presences. I suppose each of them had a different field of expertise and/or different departments working for them, but I don't know what those might have been. I suppose that was covered well in the book, but I never read the book, so when one of them was identified as the culprit, I found it anticlimactic. My reaction was "Yeah, I knew that one of them had to be guilty, and I really don't know one from another, so who cares which one? Flip a coin and be done with it."

2. You don't get to match wits with the investigators because the script is not designed that way. The baddie doesn't betray himself in some way you might pick up on. You're just supposed to watch the good guys solve the mystery, not to try to solve it along with them. 

3. Some of the solution is provided by a deus ex machina. A spy who was thought to have defected to the Soviets was actually in deep cover. When he returned, he basically delivered a monologue explaining the plot of the movie to the investigators and to us. Frankly, I'm glad he did, because I wasn't involved enough in the humdrum events on screen to pay scrupulous attention to the intricacies of the anfractuous plot.

Tinker cannot be called a spy "thriller." It's a cerebral film which makes the work of spying seem to include no thrills at all. The work seems unsexy, unphysical, and mechanical. The spymasters are essentially corporate accountants going through the field guys' receipts for discrepancies. You won't mistake these guys for Jason Bourne. They smoke and drink too much, and they have never seen the inside of a gym. Because the film includes little action, the pace seems even slower than it actually is, and the film is almost utterly bereft of passion as well. So, you wonder, if it isn't a visceral thriller, it is a complex mystery? No. There are a few minor matters which are not as they first seem, but I wouldn't call the film a mind-bender.

Oh, yeah, there are positives. The film looks great. The location shoots, especially in Budapest and on the London rooftops, are exotic and evocative. The cast is also first-rate, but is not used to full potential. The great Gary Oldman plays a world-weary and completely emotionless character who never breaks from a measured monotone, and uses a single facial expression for every scene, so the film wastes Oldman's gifts for complex characterizations. Some people have discussed Oldman's Oscar potential, but there surely must be five better performances this year, because Oldman could have done this role in his sleep.

And to be honest, he pretty much did.

Oh, as long as we're being honest, let's just cut to the chase, shall we? Why try to gussy it up?

This film is just plain dull.


  • There is some brief female toplessness in a Turkish brothel.
  •  An actor named Tomasz Kowalski, in a very minor role, showed his butt and a brief flash of L'il Kowalski.


This ia a 3-disk set of a BBC mini-series adaptation which runs about 5 1/2 hours.


3 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
85 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
85 Metacritic.com (of 100)


7.7 IMDB summary (of 10)

CinemaScore audiences were sharply divided on this film. They gave it a large number of As and a large number of Fs.


Box Office Mojo. It debuted in mini-arthouse distribution (about 55 theaters) for a month, then expanded to 800 theaters in January with limited success. It will finish between ten and fifteen million.

Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


A handsome, classy and dignified, but soporific film. Critics loved it, audiences stayed away in droves. It is really of no interest to anyone but fans of cold war spy films.