When one thinks of the John le Carre character George Smiley from "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", one automatically thinks of the late Sir Alec Guiness. It was one of his masterpiece roles along with Col. Nicholson ("Bridge on the River Kwai"), Prince Feisal ("Lawrence of Arabia") Henry Holland ("The Lavender Hill Mob") and of course Ben Obi Wan Kenobi ("Star Wars").


Reprising a Guinness role could be a risky task for most, but Tomas Alfredson was certain that Gary Oldman was up to the challenge. In case you are not familiar with Alfredson, he is the Swedish director of the original "Let The Right One In". In case you foggy on Oldman - he was Sirius Black from the Harry Potter series, Lt Gordon from "The Dark Knight" (2008) and Sid Vicious in "Sid and Nancy" (1986) as well as any number of shady characters spanning 65 productions. How does this work?


John le Carre has written several novels from The Spy Who Came In From the Cold to The Russian House to The Constant Gardner. He has a bent toward the espionage and the cold war. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was part of a trilogy including The Honorable Schoolboy and Smiley's People. All focus on George Smiley. (Guiness would actually return to television and reprise the role for the mini-series Smiley's People which earned him a couple of television acting awards.) John Irving's adaptation of the book was a seven part, seven hour mini series thought to be the only way to best represent the work.

Alfredson knocked five hours off the film in his version. Aside from casting Oldman in the lead, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds and Colin Firth are featured; in other words the entire stock of British current acting royalty.


John Hurt is Control, the aging director of MI6, the British equivalent of the CIA. He has detected a mole in the agency but can't find him. So, he calls on retired agent George Smiley to come out of retirement to help locate the mole.


What makes Control suspicious is the apparent murder of an MI6 operative in Budapest. he walked into a trap and was shot while trying to escape.


It is suspected that the mole is within the ranks of the organizational leaders. Control has assigned each one a chess piece and .nickname - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, etc. Even Smiley has earned a nickname. Each person has a motive to be a spy for the Russians which makes the task that much harder. Plus, Smiley will be operating by himself without the assistance of the Circus (headquarters).

Pery Alleline (Toby Jones) is essentially second in command behind Control and is friendly with the U.S. - something the others are weary of. Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) wants to be in charge and opposes Alleline. Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) is well established, fluent in Russian, but a good egg and supporter of Control. Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) is more or less on the outside looking in at the others.


Much like "The Spy Who Came in From The Cold", this is not your James Bond action flick. It probably reflects a more realistic picture of how the spy game is, or at least was. layers and layers of security and monotony; where even something as simple as going one floor up in the Circus requires a serious amount of clearance.


This could have added hours to the story, so instead we get well thought out flashbacks that bring us up to speed as to how Smiley arrived at a certain point. Two characters are merely mentioned - his wife and another agent - that were integral parts of the television series.


Through it all, Smiley remains sure footed and certain as he eliminates who couldn't be the mole until he arrives at who is. This is a thinking man's film as Smiley meticulously digs through the evidence without anyone really knowing what he's doing.

Tomas Alfredson does successfully scale the story back from seven hours to two without losing too much in the adaptation. His screenwriters Peter Straughan and Bridget O'Connor did an exemplary job of reducing the narrative. Straughan also contributed to this year's "The Debt" - also a spy story.


Gary Oldman, in a different take on the Smiley role pulls off a stoic, first rate performance that doesn't mimic the Guinness effort, but approaches it differently. Fewer words, more body language. The rest of the cast delivers what you would expect, given the talent.


"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" will hardly give cause to forget the television series, but does give a good representation as an adaptation. With the current movie going generation lacking a long attention span, this spy-opic is nearly perfect.   -- GEOFF BURTON