SPYING IS, by definition, a tight-lipped profession.
This partially accounts for the surprising restraint of director Tomas Alfredson's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a new adaptation of John le Carré's classic Cold War espionage novel. But credit must be given to Alfredson, too, and the film's writing team, for trusting their audience's willingness to sit still and pay attention. Despite its innately thrilling subject matter (Globetrotting spies! Soviet moles!), Tinker is an assured, thoughtfully paced movie, slow to reveal its secrets. Of course, secrets become even more irresistible in the presence of actors like Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch—and a perfectly cast Gary Oldman as the mild-mannered George Smiley, le Carré's most enduring hero.
Smiley is a former member of the British secret service who's been brought back from retirement to determine the identity of a high-placed mole within his organization. With the help of his assistant (Cumberbatch), Smiley must interrogate his own past—and his own friendships—to determine which of his colleagues has been betraying them all.
Smiley & Co.'s brand of espionage is at least as much about psychology and manipulation as it is fake mustaches and car chases, and Tinker is a well-calibrated blend of exciting spy shenanigans and character observations. There's plenty of tension here, but this is ultimately an inward-facing movie, one that finds equal intrigue in Soviet assassinations and cocktail party betrayals. Plus, it's awfully nice to look at—all vintage office equipment and men in rumpled suits. The film's biggest accomplishment, though, is that it doesn't spoon-feed the audience a single thing: not a name, not a character relationship, not a hero, not a villain. But it's all there, if you're paying attention.