FOR YEARS, the "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" series was the paperback choice of discriminating business travellers everywhere.
John le Carre's Cold War espionage books were a cut above the usual airport read - richer prose, more cerebral characters, chess-match plots.
And something else, too. The books' hero - George Smiley - was nominally in the spy/intel field, but to his legion of fans in terminal lounges, he was a middle-management superhero.
Loyal, smart, overlooked, unfairly evicted in a purge, called upon to return and clean up when the incompetent/arrogant new guys botched things up.
This is the fantasy of the ever- undervalued executive, and it's at heart of a shrewd new movie adaption of le Carre's popular story.
The role of Smiley goes to Gary Oldman, and how cool is it to see Oldman, the erstwhile Sid Vicious, mature into another quintessentially British character.
As the movie opens, Smiley is absorbing the news that his aged, brillaint-but-volatile boss (John Hurt) has lost favor with key politicians and will be kicked out as head of British intelligence.
Smiley, like the devoted servant to a deceased pharoah, is designated to be buried with him, leaving the entire operation in the hands of the usurpers (Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth).
One of them, as it turns out, is a traitor, and Smiley is informally called back to run an off-the-books, black-box investigation to identify the mole. With Oldman/Smiley are wetworker Tom Hardy ("Warrior") and Benedict Cumberbatch ("War Horse") - "Tinker" is appropriately jam-packed with UK acting talent.
The director, though, is a Swede - Tomas Alfredson, who gave us the neo-vampire classic "Let the Right One In," another memorable exercise in mood.
"Tinker" is even more measured, muted, controlled - a style that is ideally suited to le Carre's brainy, subtle narrative.
"Tinker" tiptoes quietly with muttered dialogue, has an icy palate of grays and blues, its story moves in increments - out of step with the clang of contemporary cinema - but it's precisely in step with le Carre.
And the director totally locates the story's money shot, when George Smiley, so brilliant, so overlooked, so underestimated, quietly surveys the result of his grand counterintel power play.
Is that the hint of a smile, Gary Oldman?
I think so, and there probably should be an Oscar nomination in it, but nobody these days gets a pat on the back for underplaying.