I'm no expert on espionage films, but Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a clear example of no-frills storytelling that we don't see very often anymore. Based on British Intelligence officer-turned-author John le Carré's novel of the same name, this tightly-wound story of betrayal, trust and secrecy is a tough nut to crack. The film's visual design and aesthetic aims for a carbon copy of early-1970s Britain, where Secret Intelligence Service retiree George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is reenlisted to flush out a mole within the organization's highest ranks. Smiley and his former boss, Control (John Hurt) were summarily dismissed after a botched mission in Budapest, but this film aims for much more than "one last hurrah"; its densely layered characters, stately compositions and rock-solid performances stand in for explosions, gunfire and shaky hand-held camerawork. More often that not, it's a fair trade.
Oldman's performance as George Smiley is easily the film's centerpiece: he's impossible to ignore, even without calling much attention to himself. Even when not on the job, it's obvious that Smiley is a closely guarded man, and it seems to have cost him certain things in life. Hints of a marriage to his adulterous wife Ann (Katrina Vasilieva) reveal a man who's recently lost more than a job, but it doesn't seem to have affected his ability to observe, deduce and investigate. George Smiley is simply a man born to do what he does, which is why his personal and professional lives are indistinguishable to a fault.
Much like Smiley, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy consistently keeps us at arm's length, and this deliberate lack of intimacy will quickly draw in or repel new viewers. The second and third acts definitely ease up a bit, however, deepening this already complex mystery without resorting to easy rewards along the way. Any potential problems with this approach are all but eliminated with multiple viewings...and even if you never fully grasp every detail the film hints at, there's certainly enough meat here to make Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a satisfying meal. Most viewers don't regularly get to see films that reward attention and patience, but this constantly demands both. Though a slightly more accessible approach would've potentially drawn in a wider audience, it's easy to respect a film that plays its cards so closely to the chest.
Less than six months after the Region 1 debut of the original 1979 mini-series starring Alec Guinness, Universal presents Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on separate DVD and Blu-Ray combo pack releases; the latter is the subject of today's review, and it's definitely worth the extra money. The film's technical presentation is excellent from top to bottom, while a brief but appropriate collection of bonus features adds detail and analysis to this complex, tightly layered film. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has been faithfully transferred for home theater viewing. Unlike most modern productions, he film's relatively low-contrast visuals and earthy palette let the dialogue do most of the heavy lifting. A natural layer of film grain is present, as are crisp textures and strong (but not overpowering) black levels. No obvious signs of digital problems---including edge enhancement, DNR, or compression artifacts---could be spotted, which rounds out the visual presentation nicely. A consistently good visual effort from a studio not always known for them.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix (also available in lossy DTS French and Spanish dubs) is equally understated but perfectly effective. Dialogue is clean and crisp from start to finish, occasional bursts of action and music are dynamic, and rear channels are generally reserved for subtle ambient touches. Overall, this is a careful exercise in subtlety that proves to be incredibly enveloping at times...and though it doesn't always call attention to itself, this audio track is impossible to ignore. Optional English (SDH), French and Spanish subtitles are offered during the main feature and most applicable extras.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below, the standard Universal menu designs are smooth, simple and easy to navigate. The 126-minute main feature is divided into less than two dozen chapters, no obvious layer change was detected and this Blu-Ray appears to be locked for Region "A" players only. This two-disc combo pack is housed in a multi-hubbed keepcase and includes a Digital Copy redemption insert and matching slipcover.
The main attraction is a reserved but informative Audio Commentary
with director Tomas Alfredson and star Gary Oldman, who do a decent job of filling the 126-minute session with informative stories and comparisons to the original source material. Most modern audio commentaries don't really enrich the main feature like this one does, so die-hard fans will certainly want to check it out after the credits roll.
Nothing else digs quite as deep as the audio commentary, but there's more quality material here. A collection of Interviews (57 minutes) with the likes of Alfredson, Oldman, co-star Tom Hardy, author John le Carré and others covers a few areas that the commentary doesn't. A short First Look featurette (13 minutes) provides a nice introduction that first-time viewers should watch beforehand, while a small collection of Deleted Scenes (6 minutes) adds a few minor character moments for good measure.
All bonus features are presented in a mixture of HD and SD quality, and all but the audio commentary include optional subtitles. Notably absent, however, is the film's excellent theatrical trailer.
Deliberate and almost frustratingly mysterious, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not an easy film to digest, but fans of the source material (and the genre) should enjoy what it brings to the table. Featuring top-tier performances, a wonderful score, bursts of betrayal and copious amounts of intrigue, this is an easy film to get lost in...even if you don't find your way out. Universal's combo pack is solid, pairing a fantastic A/V presentation with a handful of appropriate extras. Casual fans may want to rent it first, but there's enough meat here to make Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy worth owning. Firmly Recommended.
NOTE: The above images were obtained from promotional outlets and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off and writing stuff in third person.