A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?
- In theaters: December 9, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: March 20, 2012
- Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Gary Oldman
- Director: Tomas Alfredson
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 127 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, some sexuality/nudity and language
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
For kids who love thrills
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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