A Most Wanted Man (2104) – Review

Directed by Anton Corbijn
Written by Andrew Bovell from John Le Carre
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Grigoriy Dobrygin
A Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg, where he gets caught in the
international war on terror.

Firstly, let me clear this right up straight from the beginning. No car chases. That’s right action junkies, if you’re going to see this because you’ve heard this is a taut, nervy spy thriller, well, you’ve heard right. What it isn’t, however, is big on thrills.

Barring a Robin Wright Congress-type technological leap into a scary possible future, this is the last time you’re going to see the acting chops of Philip Seymour Hoffman on screen, and as an epitaph it’s no great send off, but nonetheless, this is still a considered and rounded performance from the great man himself. Between this and God’s Pocket, I’d sooner be remembered for the other of his most recent performances, but that is not to say that this effort is not just as focused, if not delivered with as much satisfying directorial flair.

You may also have some issues with continuity and editing if you’re paying close attention, which you really should be doing as the story, whilst not complicated, is still layered and nuanced enough to warrant keeping your eyes open. Adapted by Andrew Bovell from John Le Carre’s novel of the same name Anton Corbijn does a mostly good job and this is highlighted by some inventive and visually pleasing shot choices. Never original enough to call it ground-breaking, this is much more old school spy thrilling in the vein of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, where stuffy old, very clever men try to out-think one another in the name of national security.

One of the issues that has been highlighted elsewhere is the disconcerting feeling arising from the accents that have been employed by the actors and an argument about the effect this has on the authenticity and realism. The film does suffer to a minor extent at these choices, but as the director himself has stated, this probably would never have been green-lit for any kind of budget if actually shot in German. Does this then mean that the cast have to adopt (in some cases) ludicrous German accents that fail to convince and if anything, detract from the very serious plot developments?

If you can ignore the accents, are very patient and not looking for too much thrill in your thrillers, then you will do quite well out of this. The performances are pretty good throughout, with Seymour Hoffman taking the majority of the running time as Gunther Bachmann, the spy looking to capture a Chechen immigrant who is about to come into alot of money and then give it away to some bad guys that the good guys think will give that same money to a shipping company that appears to be a financial front for some arms dealings to terrorists. Not very complicated, as you can see by the one line synopsis above. Add to this the pesky interfering Americans that have their own agenda about capturing the immigrant, whom they see as a terrorist threat and you begin to understand the title of the film. The spies would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for those meddling…oh, anyway.

At a smidgen over two hours, Corbijn makes no apologies for dragging this story out to its maximum possible duration, so expect to look at your watch at least once. Seymour Hoffman spends his time wheezing and smoking, McAdams tries dutifully to appear both German and serious, but fails to deliver either with any kind of assurance. Dafoe looks the part as a German banker, both sombre and abiding where necessary and manages to get through the whole movie without getting his penis out or cutting off any of his or anyone else’s anatomy with rusty shears. Robin Wright appears and disappears throughout the story as the heavyweight American as and when convenient, but blink and you will almost certainly miss her, though whilst there, she does a good enough job not to make you roll your eyes.

In all A Most Wanted Man is pretty run-of-the-mill spy thriller fare and readers of the book will almost certainly disappointed by what they see on screen, failing as it will to match expectations or even their own imagination as moulded by Le Carre himself. Slightly overlong, but if you’re patient enough, you will find a grubby, authentic looking Hamburg and a convincingly unexciting plot that is more for the purists of the genre rather than the floating viewer that might be looking for something to watch. This might explain why I watched the film in a practically empty theatre only three days after release.

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