A Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg, where he gets caught in the international war on terror.
Following the success of ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ it wasn’t a surprise that there was an increased interest in adapting John Le Carre’s novels, with ‘A Most Wanted Man’ being picked up. Retaining the intriguing and grounded spy setting of ‘Tinker Tailor’, and adding the excellent director Anton Corbijn (Control, The American) and the great Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final roles, the stage was set for an excellent film.
Set in Hamburg, Germany, the film focuses on the attempts of a small group of ‘offbook’ spies and their attempts to link a local professor to terrorist financing through clever and careful planning. There is a great focus on the everyday of the ‘espionage’ business and it’s fascinating watching the meticulous planning that goes into the recruitment and manipulation of the key players to reach the end point, not to mention the fractured negotiations over control with other forms of law enforcement. Hoffman, in one of his final roles, is excellent as Gunther Backmann, the lead espionage agent. He’s excellent at his job, abhors outside interference, and his performance literally and metaphorically suggests the weight he has standing on his shoulders. The rest of the cast put in excellent performances, with Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright all finding themselves tangled up in the case, whether they wanted to be or not.
One of the things I really liked about the film is how it makes big stakes feel really small. There’s only a couple of chase sequences, and they feel natural (as opposed to the build up to the centrepiece in many thrillers), and the tension at the key moments comes from the human reactions to the situation. Watch as cinematographer Benoit Delhomme’s camera expertly ramps up the tension, with one particularly well crafted shot making it appear as if a security camera is about to fall from its hiding place at a crucial moment. It’s never too far away from the surface that these are real people, and these real people have emotions and feelings too – as we watch these characters being manipulated, we can admire the skill involved in playing them, whilst understanding the toll this places on all involved. This is a depiction of the murky and unpleasant world real espionage takes place in, and ‘A Most Wanted Man’ is superb at encapsulating it.
The film will appear slow to some, but if you let it get under your skin, ‘A Most Wanted Man’ is a deeply enjoyable experience – a carefully measured thriller, that gradually becomes absorbing through detailed plotting and strong performances. If you liked ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, you’ll really like this.
Directed By: Anton Corbijn
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Nina Hoss, Daniel Bruhl, Grigoriy Dobrygin and Rainer Bock