Gary Oldman is the BOMB (remember that one---from the nineties!) in this movie. He portrays George Smiley, a shrewd retired agent of the British version of the CIA---an organization fondly referred to as "the Circus". The thing about Oldman here is that he takes stoic to a-whole-notha level. Consequently, the few (like maybe three) times he does show some emotion, it really packs a wallop.
1. When he observes his wife making-out with another man---for 2 seconds he really looks like he's going to have a stroke.
2. When he is "pressing" a wayward colleague for information, he doesn't actually press or act threatening at all. But at one point, he simply leans into the guy's ear and says, "Tell me the address" in a quietly persuasive tone. He has just the smallest smirk about him and it is chilling---like bbbbrrrrrrrr.
3. When he returns to his home after the whole mess is over, his whole body just kind of drops when he sees his wife in the kitchen. We only see her forearm.
The setting is the 1970's. And these ain't your James Bond or Jason Bourne kind of secret agents. Nobody is super-strong or has snazzy equipment. There are no car chases, no roof-jumpings, no explosions. These are more the real deal guys who steal government secrets and occasionally kill people.
The pace is very slow, but engrossing, as Smiley attempts to ferret out who among the top members of the Circus is actually a double-agent working for the Russians. It's a lonely life working in the spy business. You can't trust anyone, it would seem. I liked that this movie was very realistic in that way. The life of a secret agent appears to be kind of a sad one. This job not only didn't seem glamorous, it seemed like knowing you could get killed at anytime was the only real "excitement". People who like that brand of excitement are kinda nutz. Hence, by Jules logic, people who work for the CIA and the like are kinda nutz.
Still, a cool film. 4 stars. Go see it. George Smiley is a strange bird, but you really appreciate him.