Dir: Anton Corbijn • Wri: Andre Bovell • Pro: Andre Calderwood, Simon Cornwell, Stephen Cornwell, Gail Egan • DOP: Benoit Delhomme • ED: Claire Simpson • Mus: Herbert Gronemeyer • Cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Grigoriy Dobrygin
A German intelligence officer, Gunther Bachmann (Hoffman), operating in Hamburg investigates and attempts to track down a Chechen Muslim, Issa Karpov (Dobrygin), who has illegally immigrated to Germany and is a suspected terrorist. Gunther must try to strike the right balance between doing the right thing and appeasing American spies all too vicious and eager in their hunt for potential terrorists. Young, idealistic lawyer Annabel Richter (McAdams) gets caught up in the messy goings on when she tries to help Issa. Her help involves Issa’s attempts to get money from a suspect banker (Dafoe). Needless to say as events progress the film gets ever more complicated and twisty in its proceedings with the viewer not ever quite sure who is good and who is bad. This leads on to an explosive, hugely suspenseful ending.
This classy John La Carre adaptation is a slow-burning, engrossing and tense espionage thriller. Anton Corbijn, director of the solid Ian Curtis adaptation Control and the stylish but empty George Clooney vehicle The American, tells the film’s story in a patient, decidedly competent fashion. There are few traces of the flair he sporadically showed in those other pictures or in his famous work as a photographer. He does bring a coldness to the picture and utilises his Hamburg setting effectively but he also occasionally utilises some lazy techniques to instil emotion in the viewer and ultimately the direction is mostly workmanlike rather than inspired. The acting, on the other hand, is superb. Naturalistic, utterly engaging performances are what draws the viewer into the murky, slippery world of the film. Such is the quality of the actors on show they even make you forget the silliness of the fact that the majority of the characters are German yet constantly speak in English.
McAdams brings a strength and vulnerability to her role as Annabel. Dafoe is as watchable as ever as a somewhat shady banker. But this film will, of course, be best remembered as the last leading role for the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman. His brilliant performance ensures it’s a fitting if terribly sad end to his career. He brings such an understated touch, such imagination, command and complexity to the role. Gunther is a tough, chain-smoking, moral man. Hoffman plays him as weary and hard-edged but retains a twinkle in the eye, a certain charisma. There are some delightful moments of unpredictability. Hoffman chuckling at a prisoner making an offensive signal at his camera or a terrifically bizarre scene where, in the middle of a meeting with American CIA operative Penn, he breaks up a domestic fight that breaks out in a bar. It’s impossible to think of any other actor that could have made something so interesting from the role.
Film fans are urged to check this out if only to see the master’s swansong. He’ll be sorely missed.
15A (See IFCO for details)
A Most Wanted Man is released 12th September 2014