A Most Wanted Man (2014)
Directed by: Anton Corbijn
Written by: Andrew Bovell, Homayoun Ershadi, John le Carré, Mehdi Dehbi
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 122 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Gunther Bachmann is the leader of an espionage organisation in Germany which seeks to develop intelligence from the local Muslim community. They are keeping a watch on Dr. Abdullah, a local Muslim philanthropist whom they suspect of channelling funds to terrorist activities, but have so far been unable to prove anything. They notice that Issa Karpov, a refugee from Chechnya, and the son of a notorious Muslim terrorist, has entered Hamburg, and wants to pick up some money his father has left him. Maybe left-wing lawyer Annabel Richter can be the key to finding out what Issa actually intends to do….
I’ve never picked up a John Le Carre book, but do look forward to when the next film based on his work will come along. Conversations in rooms and double dealing can be as exciting as loads of 007-style action if handled right. A Most Wanted Man is not as labyrinthine as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, not as poetic as The Russia House, not as harsh as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and not as touching as The Constant Gardener, but it’s thoroughly absorbing viewing nonetheless. Set mostly in a very sterile-looking Hamburg with lots of blue, it’s quietly suspenseful right from the beginning and never lets go despite resolutely holding back on what we would normally call action [a good thing considering the irritating ‘shakycam’ used in a few bursts of energy]. The timely story keeps one intrigued and eventually even slightly gripped up to its very bleak ending, which comes as a bit of a shock but is really rather appropriate considering the downbeat tone, and that this is about the dirty and unglamorous side of intelligence work where you really don’t know who you can trust and good honest decency is hard to find and is even rather pointless.
Phillip Seymour Hoffmann’s final performance, which gains extra, slightly ironic poignancy from his character’s constant smoking and drinking, is one of his very best, showing with great subtlety the internal anguish of a man who can never really connect at a personal level because of his job. His scenes with a female colleague, which hint at an attraction which can never be allowed to flourish, are especially good. Indeed, one of the strongest ingredients in Le Carre’s stories is the way characters tend not to go through with what they want to do. I have a feeling that a lot of important detail from the novel is missing in A Most Wanted Man, such as Willem Dafoe’s banker, a character who never seems real, leaving a film which sometimes resembles a two hour cut down of a three hour one, and Le Carre’s usual anti-Americanism really goes over the top in this one, but the performances are uniformly strong, Grigoriy Dobrygin doing especially well with his role as Issa, constantly keeping the viewer at a distance, and even asking the viewer to question his or her own judgement, and Anton Corbijn never allows the story to drag despite it largely consisting of conversations. This is the kind of film that you may enjoy while it lasts, then consider it a bit unsatisfying when it ends, because you’ve never really got to know the people and little but a cool sterility remains. That’s probably just what Le Carre intended though.