Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Movie Poster Image
Excellent spy film mixes suspense and shocking moments.
  • R
  • 2011
  • 127 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 6 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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 & Representations

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).

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.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 15-year-old Written byJulsbo January 29, 2021

Complex, gritty, atmospheric - good for teens with an interest in history

This is the anti-James Bond. George Smiley is a bland, bespectacled, grey little man, easily overlooked - which are among the attributes that make him a good sp... Continue reading
Adult Written byKKH May 1, 2020

Slow and boring

I followed the story... it was still slow and boring. Don’t bother.
Teen, 16 years old Written bydanny255 March 21, 2013


Teen, 17 years old Written byPrincessCharmed797 November 13, 2012

Creaky but very well-made spy thriller has graphic violence and sex

Thomas Alfredson's adaptation of the 1974 spy novel is extraordinarily well-made movie, but it lacks both the intricate mechanics and the skills to pull of... Continue reading

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.

Talk to your kids 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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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