24 September 2014

Anton Corbijn’s ‘A Most Wanted Man’

Corbijn’s film has been adapted from John Le Carré’s 2008 novel of the same name and is set in Hamburg, a city which, we are told at the outset, has become a hive of counter-terrorist activity in the years since 9/11 was planned there. The ‘most wanted man’ is a young Chechnyan illegal immigrant, Issa Karpov, half-Russian, who attracts the attention of rival units of the domestic German intelligence service. Philip Seymour Hoffman (not quite as convincing as in The Ides of March) plays the part of Günther Bachmann, an over-the-hill operative who plans to use Karpov to catch bigger fish. As might be expected in this sort of drama, things do not go well.

At two hours the film is too long for its plot, but interest is sustained by the quality of the acting: Hoffman, of course, but also Nina Hoss as his sidekick, Willem Dafoe as a shady banker, Rachel McAdams as an idealistic young lawyer out of her depth, and Robin Wright as the CIA liaison person. The producers and director chose an English-speaking cast to play mostly native German parts and squared the circle by having Hoffman adopt a German accent, an arrangement which turns out to be not quite so odd as it sounds at first.

How well-founded Le Carré’s understanding of intelligence operations in the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world may actually be, who knows?  But the underlying assumption seems to be that personal rivalry, duplicity and intramural turf-wars carry on as always in the wilderness of mirrors, while all involved reassure themselves that they are trying to make the world a safer place. I’m not certain that A Most Wanted Man has deserved the praise it has received from some critics, but any judgement is likely to be swayed by the sad reality that this is Hoffman’s last major film appearance.

A Most Wanted Man is Dutch director Corbijn’s third feature film.  I didn't seen his 2010 thriller, The American, set in Italy with George Clooney, but  I may add a footnote here if I do.  His first feature was Control in 2007, a biopic of Ian Curtis of the rock band Joy Division.

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