REVIEW: 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' Is No 'Jason Bourne,' and That's Okay

Some movies are like a smooth glass of pinot noir. Others are like a good, cheap beer. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” with its meticulous Cold War details and labyrinthine plot, is like a smoky 25-year-old single malt scotch whiskey. It hits you hard, but goes down smooth.

Gary Oldman, in a compelling and subtle performance, is George Smiley, a quick-witted British spy who is forced out of retirement during the height of the Cold War in 1973. Smiley must discreetly uncover a double agent in the Circus, a secret organization within the British Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6. Enlisting the aid of a young agent, Smiley embarks on a dangerous, confusing maze of manipulating, double-crossing spies, all the while dealing with personal baggage.

Directed by Tomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One In”) and based on the acclaimed novel by John le Carré, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy“ is gripping from start to finish. The absorbing screenplay by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan is delicate in its slow burn, and keeping you at the edge of your seat.

Jason Bourne this is not. “Tinker” is more of a thrill ride in a Rolls Royce.

“Tinker” also boasts impeccable performances by Oscar-winner Colin Firth, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch. Mark Strong, who’s become Hollywood’s resident movie villain, shines with a cloistered and fragile performance. Oldman, though he only has a fraction of the dialogue in the film, is a tour de force.

Characters come before plot in “Tinker,” which separates it from others in the genre. The plot is confusing at points and slightly suffers from the time constraints of a feature film. (“Tinker” was also made as a 1979 U.K. miniseries.)

Alfredson’s recreation of 1970’s Europe is gorgeous. The costumes, set design and solemn score by Alberto Iglesias construct an artful vision of the spy games played during the Cold War. And like a great glass of scotch, when you’re finished, you’ll want a second.