Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Movie Poster Image

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy



Excellent spy film mixes suspense and shocking moments.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 127 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Amid the often-violent spy activities, the movie includes problem solving and ethical choice-making. Good, wise characters with plenty of common sense stand up to shady characters who would use fear to increase their own power.

Positive role models

George Smiley isn't a spy like James Bond: He's gentle, reserved, and thoughtful. He plans carefully but is brave enough to take risks when necessary. But he does live a fairly solitary existence and doesn't often open up to others.


Throat-slashing and dead bodies, with strong blood and gore in a few scenes. A mother is killed while nursing her baby. A man beats a woman's head against a window. Some guns and shooting, but not as much as in many other spy movies. A man kills a bird that's entered a room through a fireplace.


A couple is seen having sex in bed, from a distance; the woman is on top and is shown from behind. A man is seen almost naked. A topless woman appears at a club. A young couple passionately makes out on a couch. Other kissing, moaning, and fondling. There's a hint of an extramarital affair. Some sexual innuendo; male characters size up a pretty new office worker.


Language is relatively infrequent but includes a few uses of "f--k," plus "s--t," "prick," "hell," "damn," "goddamn," "Christ," and "God" (as exclamations).

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Most of the characters -- except the hero -- smoke cigarettes and drink casually throughout (the story is set in the early 1970s). They drink a bit extra during a Christmas party sequence.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (adapted from a classic John le Carre spy novel) is an intelligent, adult movie. Violence isn't constant but includes guns and shooting, dead bodies, blood and gore, and violence against women (a mother is killed while nursing her baby, and another woman's head is beaten against a window). Language is also infrequent but includes a few uses of "f--k." There's also some nudity and onscreen sex (toplessness, a woman shown from behind while atop a man, etc.), plus some innuendo. Since the story is set in the early 1970s, characters smoke cigarettes freely and drink casually. For grown-ups and mature teens, this is a terrific film, arguably one of the best spy movies ever made.

What's the story?

During the Cold War, following a blown operation in Hungary in which a British Intelligence agent is shot, former agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is pulled out of retirement. His task is to find a mole planted deep within the ranks of MI6. He faces tough opposition from the men in charge and can trust nobody aside from his young assistant, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch). Can Smiley follow the subsequent elaborate and complex trail without alerting the mole?

Is it any good?


Many spy movies tend to rely mostly on dialogue and exotic locations to tell their complex stories, but the superb TINKER TAILER SOLDIER SPY gets by on subtlety. The movie is based on the classic novel by John le Carre -- which was also made into a 1979 miniseries starring Alec Guinness. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, making his English language debut, maintains an intricate balance, and Oldman, walking in Guinness' formidable shoes, gives a truly great, reserved performance.

Unlike many spy movies, there's very little shooting or chasing here. The color scheme is muted and industrial; even a hot cup of tea doesn't quite cut through the gloom. In many scenes, characters just seem to be sitting in rooms and talking. It sounds dull, but it's actually one of the best spy movies ever made, adding glorious layers and tones to each moment and building on moods and silences so that the exciting moments mean all that much more. Indeed, this quiet movie generates more suspense than a hundred chases and shoot-outs.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Tinker Tailor Solder Spy's violent moments. How shocking are the shootings and gore? Do they have greater impact because they're used sparingly?

  • Does the movie seem especially violent in regard to women? What message does that send?

  • Is the movie suspenseful? How does it achieve suspense with such a slow pace and so few action scenes? Does a good spy movie need a lot of action?

  • Is George Smiley a good role model? What are his main attributes? What are his faults?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 9, 2011
DVD/Streaming release date:March 20, 2012
Cast:Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Gary Oldman
Director:Tomas Alfredson
Studio:Focus Features
Run time:127 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:violence, some sexuality/nudity and language

This review of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

  • Excellent, smart spy thriller for mature teens and up.
  • 007's silver screen debut with action and bikinis.
  • Complex and powerful movie is for adults only.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 16 years old Written bydanny255 March 21, 2013


What other families should know
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Teen, 16 years old Written byWillML January 23, 2012

Consider This Before Going

This movie is only enjoyable when you know the story of the books and the original tv series. Remember this is a film that is cramming a 6ish hour story into 2 hours, so not a lot of things are explained and many topics are expected to be known by the viewers. The reason for all of the high critic reviews are mainly because these are critics that know the story of George Smiley. There was a review by Anthony Lane in the New Yorker and he did not like the film for many of the same reasons, and I don't blame him. It is a short review that I recommend reading. This is not a Bond or Bourne film, and TTSS is truer to the life of a spy then those action packed spy films. One should be cautious when deciding if it is a movie for their children, but it really depends on the parent and their decision. Just make sure that you know a little bit about the story before diving into a movie and coming out with much less than you expected, which is what happened to me.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Parent Written bytbone68 January 10, 2012

Bit of a slog

Gary Oldman has little dialogue, just a knowing look. Give him credit for not overacting. I wanted more character development. Very well acted, but long and a little dull. CSM review on sex, violence, language is all accurate but the violence is pretty mild honestly.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?