Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Anton Corbijn
Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Willem Dafoe, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Daniel Bruhl, Nina Hoss, Rainer Bock, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Mehdi Debhi, Herbert Gronemeyer.
The spy thriller A Most Wanted Man marks one of the final screen appearances of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Oscar winning actor who died earlier this year. It is a fitting epitaph for this chameleon-like actor who totally inhabited the characters he played on screen.
A Most Wanted Man is set in Hamburg, a city on high alert. There are numerous reminders that it was here that the terrorists who brought down the twin towers in 2001 planned their daring operation while German intelligence missed the opportunity to stop the operation and failed in their due diligence. The film has been adapted from the 2008 novel written by John Le Carre (The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, etc), and the well crafted script from Australian playwright Andrew Bovell (Lantana, etc), is intelligent, full of twists, and it unfolds with a slow burning tension and air of uneasiness.
A former intelligence officer himself at the height of the Cold War tensions, Le Carre intimately knows this cold, grey, morally ambivalent and bleak world. His downbeat view of this world of uncertain loyalties and casual betrayals is shaped by cynicism, and is far removed from the action, the guns, gadgets and girls of the Bond and Bourne franchises. There is very little action in a Le Carre novel or film.
Hoffman plays Gunther Bachmann, an intelligence officer for a small, elite unit that performs those murky jobs that the organs of German intelligence don’t want to touch, like infiltrating the Muslim community. Bachmann’s career is on the skids after a spectacular foul up in Beirut, and his superiors don’t exactly trust him anymore. Bachmann and his small crew (including Nina Hoss and Daniel Bruhl) are following Karpov (Gregoriy Dobrygin), a former Chechen terrorist who has snuck into Hamburg illegally. Karpov is determined to try and claim a fortune left to him by his late father. Bachmann wants to follow Karpov and a trail of money, hoping it will lead him further up the food chain of terrorists.
His ultimate target is Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), a highly respected doctor who travels the world lecturing on Islamic history and espouses a philosophy of tolerance, but Bachmann suspects he is heavily involved in sponsoring terrorist attacks. He enlists the reluctant help of shady banker Thomas Brue (Willem Dafoe) to ensnare Karpov and, ultimately, Abdullah.
Complicating matters is the involvement of Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), a human rights lawyer whom Bachmann describes as “a social worker for terrorists.” Bachmann also battles with his superiors and with Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), a CIA agent whose allegiances are unclear.
A Most Wanted Man marks one of the final screen appearances for Hoffman, who looks and sounds extremely haggard here. He brings an exhausted, weary edge to his performance here as the disillusioned, gruff, chain-smoking, alcoholic Bachmann. The final scene is a great and poignant finale for Hoffman, a volatile but versatile actor who brought so much gravitas and intelligence to so many memorable characters in a fine career.
Dafoe brings a subtle menace to his role as Brue, the banker who holds the key to Abdullah getting his hands on the money. The cast also comprises a number of German actors, such as Rainer Bock (from Inglorious Basterds, etc), who bring verisimilitude to the setting.
The film has been directed in slick but understated fashion by former photographer Anton Corbijn (The American, Control, etc), a visual stylist who captures this murky world of espionage and post 9/11 paranoia. The port city of Hamburg itself is bathed in cold greys and muted colours by veteran cinematographer Benoit Delhomme (The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, The Proposition, etc). As with Corbijn’s earlier low key spy thriller The American, the striking locations almost become another key character in the film.
A Most Wanted Man offers a bleak but intriguing and realistic view of the world of espionage, which is typical of the films adapted from the novels of Le Carre. However, in terms of broad appeal it falls short of the achievements another Le Carre adaptation, the superb and complex Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy from a couple of years ago.