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Film / Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)
aka: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

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For a guy named "Smiley", he sure looks serious.

Ricki Tarr: She claimed to have information vital to the safeguarding of the Circus.
George Smiley: Anything more?
Ricki Tarr: I said that she had information concerning a double agent.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is an espionage thriller directed by Tomas Alfredson and adapted from the John le Carré novel of the same name, the first in The Quest for Karla trilogy. The film was released in September 2011.

Set in the 1970s, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), once a master spy for "the Circus", is pulled out of retirement by his former colleague Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) for one last job: rooting out a Russian mole from among the upper echelon of the Circus' leadership. To do so, Smiley must dig into some of the most dramatic incidents in recent Circus history: the tale of AWOL spy Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), the ousting of former chief "Control" (John Hurt), the leadership coup that put Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) in the top job, a botched operation in Hungary that resulted in the public wounding and capture of Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), a covert intelligence source code-named "Witchcraft", and even persistent rumours that Circus officer Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) has been having an affair with Smiley's wife. All this leads to a wider conspiracy that Smiley must unravel before the Russian spymaster known as Karla uses it to destroy the Circus.

The film has been a financial success and a critical darling, garnering a slew of nods from the BAFTAs and the British Independent Film Awards. Gary Oldman received his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor, and the adapted screenplay and original score are nominated as well. Both Gary Oldman and Tomas Alfredson have expressed a willingness to return for a sequel based on Smiley's People, the third book in Le Carre's The Quest for Karla trilogy note .

The page for the original novel (and the rest of the trilogy) can be found here; the BBC miniseries starring Alec Guinness as George Smiley are here.

Tinker, Tailor, Troper, Spy:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: George Smiley is described as fat and owlish in the book, with short legs and ill-fitting clothes. Which doesn't sound like Gary Oldman at all. (But does sound like Toby Jones...)
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Jerry Westerby is much nicer than he is in the book, as well as Collins, the character whose role is combined into Westerby's for the film.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: A minor example, but Peter is portrayed as gay in this movie.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The order of events are changed and one character is merged.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Haydon is bisexual, but just how "inseparable" he and Prideaux are is never made clear. Their relationship is certainly intense.
  • Anachronic Order: Just like the original novel. The film uses a clever technique to help the viewer keep track of the flashbacks—at the beginning, shortly after his forced retirement from the Circus, Smiley is shown buying a new pair of glasses in a different style. So the flashbacks to Control's time in power are immediately recognisable because Smiley is wearing his old pair of glasses.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Percy Alleline has spent his whole career trying to become Chief of the Circus; he finally succeeds, getting unimaginable prestige and authority, his knighthood, and the brutal realization that the man at the top is the first to catch blame when anything goes wrong.
  • Being Good Sucks: Irina puts her life on the line to reveal there is a mole at the Circus, her reward is to be tortured and shot in front of Prideaux. On the other hand, she was actually trying to sell the identity of her allies for her own benefit, so while what happens to her definitely sucks, it's not the consequence of "being good."
    • Most of the secret agents — apparently doing a difficult, dangerous job out of loyalty to their country — don't get much in the way of rewards. If they're not murdered in the course of their duties, then they get to retire with a severance package so paltry that the two retired agents we see are working as an au pair and a schoolteacher to make ends meet. Oh, and for the ones still working in the service: good luck having a happy home life! It seems like the scene where Guillam has to go home and kick his boyfriend out, for fear that the man will be used against him, only exists to reinforce this.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Smiley turns out to be willing to be just as brutal and cruel as any other spy, despite his unassuming, quiet nature.
  • Big Bad: Karla, a fanatical Russian agent who runs the whole spy ring. He's never seen throughout the entire film, and remains an enigma.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The mole has been outed and assassinated for his treachery, Smiley's wife has come home, and Smiley himself has been promoted to head of the Circus and has a new protégé. However, three senior officers' careers are destroyed, with them having to live with the fact that they inadvertently helped the Russians. The head of Russian intelligence, Karla, is still out there. Irina was tortured and killed, with Ricki Tarr still none the wiser. Guillam has broken up with his boyfriend for the sake of his career. Prideaux has killed his best friend. And, Julio Iglesias' cover of "La Mer" further plays over the ending sequence, reinforcing the hollowness and melancholy that comes hand-in-hand with this seemingly triumphant moment.
  • Blackmail: Smiley threatens to deport Toby Esterhase to Vienna, likely ensuring his assassination unless he reveals the address of the London safe house.
  • Blatant Lies: The Mole's confession is bullshit. We never really learn why he joined Moscow Centre.
    • Smiley promises Tarr that "I'll do my utmost" to get Irina back safe and sound, knowing full well she's already dead.
  • Blood Is Squicker in Water: Boris winds up eviscerated in a bathtub.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The fates of Irina and Haydon. Though Haydon's is more of a "pop" than a "boom".
  • Break the Haughty:
    • In a meeting with Lacon and the Minister, Smiley pitilessly explains that Witchcraft is a fabrication created by Karla and The Mole, that Alleline and the Minister have provided no end of assistance to the mole in providing the facilities for passing intelligence to Moscow, and last but not least, the British government is not important enough to warrant Karla's attention, except as the bait in a trap for the Americans.
    • Happens off-camera, with Alleline. After the mole is exposed, the formerly Smug Snake Alleline visits the Circus's training camp where the mole is being held, just long enough to confirm that the Service he was put in charge of has been harboring a Soviet mole for decades, that the Service has been a public library to the KGB for almost that long, and all of the "gold" Russian intelligence he has built his career on was simply just Russian fabrication. When Smiley arrives, Alleline trudges past him like a zombie, staring ahead blankly, heedless either of Smiley or the rain pouring down on his bare head.
  • Broken Pedestal: Inverted. It is implied Control began to believe his loyal subordinate Smiley was the mole. Smiley is heartbroken to discover this.
  • Butt-Monkey: Toby Esterhase.
    • Guillam to some extent: his reward for being Smiley's assistant and doing the dangerous and distasteful legwork of the investigation is having to make his lover, who is male, leave him without telling him the truth of the situation in case his involvement in the case brings his personal life under scrutiny.
    • Prideaux counts as well: he is tortured for months, returns to England only to be kicked out of the service and forced to take a job as a schoolteacher, manages to bond with a kid only to shove him away upon realization that he's turning the kid into himself, and ends up killing his best friend/possible lover at the end of the film.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': The Circus post-Control establishes a rapport with a Soviet defector and jumps at the opportunity to get information in order to rebuild their own much needed rapport with the CIA. Control and Smiley are suspicious of the information from the get-go, but they are ousted because of the Budapest incident. The problem is that the contact is actually there to be fed information by a KGB mole in the Circus high command while he himself is feeding them peanuts in return; this ends up costing them their jobs and their reputations as spies, clearing the path for Smiley to take over in the end.
  • Casabianca: Guillam recites this to test the hidden recorders in the safehouse. Likely for Rule of Symbolism (and for reasons of copyright), given the poem's association with the obsolescent values of the past, as in the novel it was a Hollywood Tone-Deaf rendition of "Old Man River".
  • Chekhov's Gun: The lighter Smiley gives to Karla.
  • Code Name: The trailer explains that the film's title is derived from code names given to the potential moles.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Prideaux is subjected to it. Irina clearly was too by the looks of her when she was brought in.
  • Composite Character: Collins' function in the story remains the same. But he is given the name of another character, Jerry Westerby.
  • Creator Cameo: John Le Carré appears as a sozzled spy at the Christmas party scene.
  • Credits Gag: Karla Films is mentioned at the end of the closing credits.
  • Death by Adaptation: Tufty Thesinger. Played with for Jim Prideaux, who we find out is alive halfway through the film. Also, Prideaux explicitly witnesses Irina's death, which was only referred to in the book (in the book, Smiley received a tip-off about Moscow Centre executing a female prisoner, and strongly suspected that it was her).
  • Demoted to Extra: Fawn, who does not even merit an introduction in this version.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In the novel, Prideaux climbs into Sarratt after dark, shares a bottle of vodka with Haydon and then breaks his neck. In the film, he snipes him in broad daylight.
  • Dirty Coward: Toby Esterhase, exemplified by his sobbing terror at the thought of being deported back to Hungary.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Early in the film Smiley is riding in a car with the others, who all try ineffectively to swat a bee, while Smiley simply watches its movement and winds down the window at exactly the right time to allow it to escape. This foreshadows his technique of finding the mole not with brute force, but through clever entrapment.
  • Everybody Knew Already: That Bill Haydon was Ann Smiley's lover. It turns out Haydon deliberately let Smiley know as part of a Batman Gambit by Karla.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Bill Haydon, who realises in one glance how badly he betrayed Prideaux.
  • The Faceless: Karla and Ann Smiley are never shown clearly on screen. This is to show that they are specters that haunt Smiley.
  • Fatal Flaw: Smiley loves his wife, no matter how badly she treats him. Smiley thinks that Karla's fanaticism is his. Bill Haydon's is pride; he thought he couldn't be caught, and he played right into Smiley's hands.
  • Flat Character: We don't learn much about Roy Bland except that he flies under the radar and isn't a massive jerk like Alleline, Esterhase, and Haydon; he is at the very least rather proud of his work as a spy.
  • Fly Crazy: After picking up Mendel, one of his latter's honeybees is stuck in Smiley's car. A bit of Foreshadowing in that Guillam ineffectively swats at it while Smiley just watches it and opens his window at just the right moment so it leaves—suggesting how his method of finding the mole differs from others'.
  • Foreshadowing: The reaction of various characters while the USSR National Anthem is played at the party as a joke subtly foreshadows the identity of the mole. While the two red herrings Alleline and Esterhase briefly shake their heads in disapproval, with Esterhase looking especially unamused, Haydon is hidden in the shadows seducing Smiley's wife, which will turn out to be part of his plan as a double agent.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The suspected moles — George Smiley (melancholic), Bill Haydon (phlegmatic), Roy Bland (leukine), Toby Esterhase (sanguine), and Percy Alleline (choleric).
  • Get Out!: A sign of Control's increasing breakdown. "OUT! ALL OF YOU!"
    • Percy Alleline to Peter Guillam, after accusing Peter of being in contact with Tarr.
    • Haydon gives a curt "Out!" after discovering Prideaux has been shot in Hungary.
  • Get-Rich-Quick Scheme: Percy Alleline's Witchcraft source is the intelligence version of this. Control refused to believe in Witchcraft's genuineness, which was part of the why he was deposed as head of the Circus. The getting rich part was to earn the trust of the CIA.
    Smiley: Control didn't believe in miracles and he didn't believe in Witchcraft, but you were lazy and you were greedy and so you hounded him out of the Circus and you let Karla in.
  • Gorn: Almost all of the violence in the film is exceptionally bloody and gruesome, particularly the gory deaths of Boris and Thesinger. Notably averted when Haydon is killed.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Except for The Mole, all of the main characters are trying to do the right thing. It doesn't stop them from being pricks about it. The only 'nice' characters are Connie Sachs, Irina, and Ricki Tarr.
  • Handicapped Badass: Prideaux's pupils are mocking his crooked back when an owl flies out of the chimney. Prideaux swats it out of the air and kills it with just two blows from a ruler. Cue Stunned Silence.
  • Hate Sink: In a film full to the brim with backstabbing, two-faced, Jerkass spies, Ann Smiley is one of the absolute worst characters, a serial adulterer who has absolutely zero love for her husband George even as he loves her with an adherence most wives would kill to have — not to mention that this adultery has been exploited as a weapon by Karla in his war against Smiley.
  • Heroic BSoD: Control when he's informed that Operation Testify has gone belly up. He refuses to give the duty officer any instructions on how to handle the crisis; just sits staring at him in silence.
  • Hey, Wait!: Peter has just stolen the file when he's detained and grilled about his connection to Tarr. It's not surprising he flips out and assaults Tarr afterwards.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Jim uses a silenced rifle that goes fwip! to finally kill Bill Haydon. It seems a little out of place, but IMFDB notes that it's a .22 LR BRNO 452—a rifle that, when loaded with subsonic ammunition, really is as quiet as it is portrayed.
  • Hope Spot: Irina's appearance at Prideaux's interrogation.
  • Insert Cameo: The hands of the optician adjusting the equipment during Smiley's eye exam belong to Alfie Oldman, Gary's son.
  • It Was a Gift: Smiley's lighter. He makes the mistake of letting Karla walk off with it; years later Karla uses it to throw suspicion on Smiley.
    "It was a gift. For George, from Ann. All my love."
  • It's Personal: Why Prideaux kills The Mole.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique/Brown Note: Prideaux is strapped to a chair with headphones over his ears wired to a tape recorder that plays loud noises at random intervals.
  • Jerkass:
    • Alleline is an egotistical, unpleasant dick who acts like he is better than everyone else and upstaged Control just to satisfy his ambition,
    • Esterhase is an opportunistic coward who sold out Control at the first opportunity, in spite of Control having pulled him off the streets.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Haydon is a hardass, but there are several hints that he might be a good person underneath the rough exterior, and the rest of the cast aren’t very nice people either, but are all committed to doing the right thing. Then he turns out to be The Mole.
  • Karma Houdini: Karla escapes the collapse of Witchcraft unscathed. Smiley planned this for The Mole, but he was killed by Jim Prideaux before he could be traded.
  • Kink Meme: Yep, even Smiley gets in on the action. No surprises that Tarr/Guillam and Prideaux/Haydon are the two most popular pairings. Found here.
  • Knight Templar: Smiley notes that Karla is one of these, being so fanatically devoted to Soviet ideology that he willingly went back home under the impression he would be killed out of suspicion. He wasn't.
  • Mandatory Unretirement: Smiley is forced out of the Circus along with Control due to the disaster in Budapest (Jim Prideaux's being shot and captured) and Percy Alleline's aggressively pushing his new, Get-Rich-Quick Scheme-esque new source, Witchcraft, which he (and the rest of the British government) believe will restore the Circus to the CIA's good graces and get them to start sharing intelligence. Smiley's unofficially brought back on to head the mole hunt.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Several characters suffer this when they are told that there's a mole and the Witchcraft material is completely useless.
  • The Mole: The goal of the movie is to find out who's been feeding intelligence to the Soviets. It's Bill Haydon.
  • Mole in Charge: The Russian mole is believed to be one of the top five (including Smiley, whom Control suspected, despite their being hand-in-glove) people in the Circus.
  • Montage Out: How the film ends, as the film silently wraps up the storylines of the major characters.
  • Mythology Gag, overlapping with Genius Bonus: it seems odd how Smiley is not a codename from the Tinker, Tailor nursery rhyme, right? Well, remember that Jim Prideaux asks at one point if he is a "beggar man, thief?" Then recall how the nursery rhyme continues: rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. And, yes, "beggar man" was Smiley's code name in the original book.
  • No Name Given: Control, Karla.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Connie reminisces lovingly about what good times she had with "the boys" at Sarratt in the 1940s, until Smiley finally points out that they were there because of World War II.
    • Which doesn't stop her regarding it as a golden time when 'men could be proud to be English'.
  • Nothing Personal: Bill Haydon re: sleeping with Ann.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Smiley to Karla.
    Smiley: (in reminiscence) We are not so different, you and I. We've both spent our lives looking for the weaknesses in one another's systems.
  • Not So Stoic: Smiley asks Haydon why Karla didn't have him try for Control's job.
    Haydon: I'm not his bloody office boy!
    Haydon: (beat) I'm someone who's made his mark.
  • Not What It Looks Like: At one stage it looks like Bill Haydon is The Mole because he came into the Circus already knowing about Jim Prideaux's capture. Smiley however points out that Haydon was having an affair with his wife, so would have found out when the duty officer called her and asked for Smiley. Ironically Haydon is the mole, and was having an affair purely to muddy the waters in case Smiley accused him.
  • Oh, Crap!: A mutual one when Jim realises he's been Lured into a Trap, and his contact's smile slips when he realises that Jim has realised this. Things quickly go From Bad to Worse.
  • Overly-Nervous Flop Sweat: The first indication that Jim has walked into a trap is that the waiter is sweating so hard it drips on the table.
  • Perp Sweating: Smiley takes this trope up to eleven with Toby Esterhase by landing a plane two feet away during their conversation. This is ridiculously unsafe.
  • Pet the Dog: As a point of suspicion. One would expect Jim Prideaux to be killed after he's interrogated by the Soviets, but instead he's sent home in one piece - implying that the mole pulled strings to protect him. Why? Because the mole is Haydon, who actually wept in distress when he found out Prideaux had been captured.
    • Though Karla doesn't miss the chance to put suspicion on Smiley by showing Prideaux the lighter he got from Smiley.
  • Posthumous Character: Control dies sometime in between him and Smiley leaving the Circus and Smiley getting called back in to find the mole.
  • Precision F-Strike: "I don't know about you, George, but I'm feeling seriously underfucked." The first use of the F-word in the movie; also the most memorable, and a Funny Moment.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: With the prettiest little tear of blood running down from the bullet hole just below Bill Haydon's completely intact eye. Though possibly justified as a .22 subsonic round was used. Averted when the next shot shows the body laying face down on the ground, and you can see who knows what through the huge gaping hole on the back of the skull.
    • Also, the bystander shot in Hungary.
    • Notably averted for Irina, who is executed by a shot to the head with a pistol at close range. Gorn ensues.note 
  • Punch-Clock Villain: During Prideaux' sonic torture by the Soviets, where he's being blasted with random noise and shrieking through headphones (possibly for hours or days on end), there's a trim, nondescript middle-aged woman sitting by the tape recorder, presumably in charge of it; she's flicking aimlessly through the newspaper to pass the time.
  • Reluctant Retiree: When Control is forced to leave, he announces that Smiley is retiring with him. It's implied that Control had come to believe that Smiley was the mole. Ironically, Smiley is too loyal to protest at this unasked-for resignation.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • It is never revealed why Haydon became The Mole, and the reason he gives is clearly bullshit. This is sharp contrast to the book, wherein he goes on an extensive Motive Rant. Though Smiley also considers in the novel Haydon's explanation to be so contradictory that the mole comes across as either a Consummate Liar or a inconsistent Commie Nazis at best, getting seriously annoyed after a while.
    • Karla rarely appears and his face is never seen, and all we get about his personality is from what Smiley recounts from their encounter.
  • Right Behind Me: Twice. First time, Peter Guillam is just about to escape the Circus after grabbing some secret files for Smiley, only for Roy Bland to appear right behind him in the same lift. The second, Toby Esterhase is leaving, as the lift door opens to reveal Peter waiting for him.
  • Rule of Symbolism: We never see the faces of either Karla, Smiley's greatest enemy, or his wife, Lady Ann. This is probably to indicate that both people are, on some level, a complete mystery to him. The only thing he really knows about Karla is that he's a fanatic, and the only thing he really knows about Ann is that he loves her. As an intelligence officer, this makes both of them his greatest challenges, and yet he also believes (wrongly) that these are the most important things about them.
  • Saying Too Much: Smiley in his attempted recruitment of Karla, distracted by troubles at home.
    "I kept harping on about his damn wife. Telling him more about me than...I should have walked out of course."
  • The '70s: The film revels in the time period.
  • Slashed Throat: How Tufty Thesinger meets his Death by Adaptation.
  • Smug Snake: Percy Alleline and Toby Esterhase, after they take over the Circus. They have little, if any, respect for veterans like Control, Smiley (both of whom they had a hand in forcing out), or Connie Sachs.
  • Stop, or I Will Shoot!: A Hungarian agent shoots Prideaux In the Back as he's walking away, even though the alley is blocked off by other agents. The KGB are furious because they wanted him alive and there was no chance of him escaping anyway.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: At the end, Julio Iglesias's perky cover of 'La Mer' plays as a montage of the Christmas party, Bill Haydon being shot by Jim Prideaux, a distraught Ricki Tarr looking in a shop window and Smiley ascending the stairs to take his place as head of the Circus.
  • Straight Gay: Unlike the book, Peter Guillam is portrayed as homosexual in the film. It's not even revealed until partway into the movie, when we see Guillam asking his lover to leave.
  • Suddenly Shouting: The mole, during an otherwise calm debriefing with Smiley, declares that he wasn’t a simple flunky for Karla, at which point Smiley angrily and reflexively shouts at him. Notable as the only time in the film when Smiley displays a strong outward emotional reaction to others.
    Haydon:(on the brink of tears) I'm not his bloody office boy.
  • Tears of Blood: When Bill Haydon is shot by Jim Prideaux with a small caliber bullet through the head, a single teardrop of blood runs down his cheek, matching the Single Tear shed by Jim.
  • Title Drop: In the trailer only, which alters Control's dialogue when he's explaining the code names to Prideaux.
  • Too Good to Be True: Why Smiley is immediately suspicious of Witchcraft's intelligence; it's exactly what the British were looking for.
    Smiley: If it's genuine, it's gold dust. But its topicality is suspect.
  • The Stoic: Smiley, obviously.
  • Tranquil Fury: Smiley's tone is all politeness and deference as he explains to the Minister how he has unwittingly assisted the mole in turning the Circus into a de facto arm of Russian intelligence, and ruined the careers of Smiley's mentor and Smiley himself:
    Smiley: The man Alleline and the others meet... You believe his role is to bring information from Witchcraft to you. His real role is to receive information from the Mole to take back to Karla.
    Minister: That's... that's not possible.
    Smiley: Made possible. By you. When he steals our secrets he does it under the very nose of the Circus, in the house which you persuaded the treasury to pay for. I'm sure you'll be able to take full credit for that.
    Minister: Witchcraft's intelligence is genuine! It's been gold!
    Smiley: Just enough glitter amongst the chickenfeed. Control didn't believe in miracles and he didn't believe in Witchcraft, but you were lazy and you were greedy, and so you hounded him out of the Circus and you let Karla in.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: When Ricky Tarr is told by Irina at Hong Kong that there is a KGB mole at the high echelons of The Circus, he thinks that she's overselling it to be able to defect; the guys at the Circus stall and the mole intercepts the communication, prompting the KGB to capture Irina and kill his partner, forcing Ricky to get the hell out of dodge and alert Smiley through a route unbeknownst to the Circus, thinking them complicit.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: One noted comment on the film is how complicated the plot becomes at times, with some reviewers even joking that you may need to bring along a notebook to keep up with all of the plotlines and characters.
  • The Watson: Peter Guillam.

Alternative Title(s): Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy