Dateline: Budapest, 1973. It is the height of the Cold War, and British spy Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) has been sent behind the Iron Curtain on a covert anti-Communist mission. But when the operation is badly botched and blood is shed, there are consequences back in London at MI6 headquarters where both the head of the organization (John Hurt) and his right-hand man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), are forced to resign in disgrace.
However, it isn’t very long before Smiley is secretly rehired by Undersecretary Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney), the member of the Prime Minister’s cabinet responsible for overseeing the intelligence agency. It seems that there is good reason to believe that a Soviet mole has infiltrated the “Circus,” the government’s name for MI6’s highest echelon. As it turns out, Prideaux was in Hungary in search of the double agent whose identity has been narrowed down to four suspects referred to by their codenames Tinker (Toby Jones), Tailor (Colin Firth), Soldier (Ciaran Hinds), and Poor Man (David Dencik).
It falls to the wily Smiley to match wits with a savvy and inscrutable adversary. What makes the task particularly perilous is that Smiley dare not risk suspicion by confiding in any of his contacts inside MI6. Instead, as a lone wolf, he must rely on a combination of experience and his finely-tuned personal radar to ensnare his elusive prey.
Is the traitor the ambitious Percy Alleline (Tinker), the unflappable Bill Haydon (Tailor), the rough-edged Roy Bland (Soldier), or the officious Toby Esterhase (Poor Man)? The result is a spellbinding espionage thriller.
It should be no surprise that the multi-layered mystery is so intriguing, because it’s based on the bestseller that many fans of the genre consider to be the best spy novel of all time. Author David John Moore Cornwell, aka John Le Carré, who wrote under a pseudonym as required by MI6 of its former agents, appears in a cameo in the picture as a guest at a Christmas party.
This adaptation is considerably denser compared to the miniseries the BBC shot in 1979 that starred Sir Alec Guinness. Director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) has distilled the 400-page opus down to its essential elements while remaining faithful to the source material.
Excellent (****). Rated R for violence, profanity, sexuality, and nudity. Running Time: 127 minutes. Distributor: Focus Features.