Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Man On A Ledge: two sides of the same coin

Last weekend, I watched Man On A Ledge, and I finally got round to watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as well.  (I’ve been distracted by The Walking Dead series lately)

It was amusing to note that both films had similar elements:  corrupt agents, betrayal, conspiracy…but each film took a polar opposite approach to its story.

I started with Tinker Tailor.  I was immediately struck by its very British style:  slower-paced; a humble approach to physicality; much more room for quiet dialogue.  I appreciated how its pace allowed the characters space to develop on their own and contrast each other, like the few otherwise unnecessary seconds where we observed how Smiley and Guilliam reacted to a fly in their vehicle.  I also enjoyed its camerawork:  subjects were often framed up with other objects in the foreground, and action sometimes filled up just a third of the screen as if to say the story is part of a larger framework of life.  Loved it.

In a movie with such an expansive cast and rich plot, it was important for each to have a bit of his own time for the benefit of the audience.  One of my favourite parts of this movie (and maybe all the movies I’ve watched in the last few months) was Gary Oldman‘s monologue as Smiley as he described, peering through thick spectacles straight at the camera, his encounter with his nemesis Karla.  It was mesmerising.

Perhaps ironically, it was later revealed that it was precisely an understanding of character that led to the strategies Karla adopted against Smiley.

Unfortunately, the ending of Tinker Tailor was a letdown.  After everything we’d been through in the story, all the heavy tension that each character had collected within us, the movie climaxed with just about the same intensity and suppression as the sniper rifle that was instrumental in it.

When the show was over I found myself wishing for a bit of the more fast-paced, bam-bam-bam-bam-WOW style of Hollywood action thrillers.  The next day I got my wish with Man On A Ledge, which was exactly all that with Genesis Rodriguez (and her hot-pink underwear) thrown in.

Nothing about Man On A Ledge was slow: the first ten minutes brought us to exactly what the title promised.  Despite the action being delivered in the quicker-cut style I was itching for, and the works were thrown in as far as stunts go.  The cameras played up their contrast to Tinker Tailor too – everything (and then some) was in our faces and wider-angle lenses roamed free.  I was happy to note that the details of exactly why he was on that ledge were revealed more comfortably; allowing each new turn of events to sit for a while before the next one.  That’s the thing though – the action had itself some breathing room, its players (all except the titular Man) didn’t.  I don’t have much else to say about this one; it didn’t do too much wrong but didn’t do itself any favours either.

As a whole, I have to say that in a battle of pace, it was slow and steady that won the race.  The time given for the audience to warm up to the characters of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was vital in creating a longer-lasting impression of the show; even though I had never read the books beforehand, I found myself drawn to and still wanting to find out more about the likes of Smiley and Guilliam and Haydon and Prideaux.  By contrast, Man On A Ledge made for very entertaining viewing, but I never cared much for Sam Worthington before and I still don’t now.  The movie never bothered much about its own characters (whose names I forget by now – see what I mean), so why should we?


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