Friday, July 25, 2014


Although the work of British spy novelist John le Carre has been adapted for the screen many times (most recently, TINKER TAILOR SOLIDER SPY in 2011), it can often be difficult to access. His stories after all are often a complex and tangled web of multi-layered plots and twisting deception. The task of director Anton Corbijn in A MOST WANTED MAN was to find a balance between a complex spy-story and movie-brevity, and to make a film befitting of one actor’s committed performance.
When a Russian/Chechen immigrant arrives in Germany to collect his father’s large inheritance, he catches the attention of the German government’s secret anti-terrorism unit, led by Gunter (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and the American CIA, led by Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright). The immigrant, Karpov, (Grigoriy Dobrygin) is aided in collecting his millions by radical lawyer Annabelle (Rachel McAdams), and corporate banker Brue (Willem Dafoe).

The point of A MOST WANTED MAN is summed up late in the film by Gunter when he uses an old fishing metaphor; it takes a minnow to catch a barracuda, and it takes a barracuda to catch a shark. The simplicity of Karpov looking to collect a multi-million dollar inheritance is only the beginning, for as the film unfolds we see that these monies and where they may go have bigger implications involving global security. All of this comes about through a maze of deception and many turns, as characters are pitted against each other and plot-points change by the minute. There is a constant game of chess going on, and it is never quite clear what the true intentions of the characters are. A MOST WANTED man is not only a guessing game for the characters, but for the audience as well.
Director Anton Corbijn keeps the pacing at a slow, but steady burn. It is a dialogue-heavy film with very little action, and certainly sells itself as a patient and mature thinking-man’s film; the young and impatient need not apply here. Corbijn keeps the characters at an arms-length; we don’t really get to know them all that well, which actually helps the film as we really don’t know who to trust ourselves. The film is beautiful to look at and takes full advantage of its German (Hamburg) surroundings.

Rachel McAdams is the surprise of the film. She nails her accent perfectly and sends a signal out to the world that she is ready to wear adult clothing. Willem Dafoe is brilliant and does some serious work as a conflicted man; possibly the best he’s done in a supporting role in a long time. Everyone seems to be elevated by the work of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who in his final role as a leading man, turns in an astounding performance. Hoffman nails his accent and disguises his voice in a way that we would never guess it was him if our eyes were closed. Hoffman is a fascinating chameleon here, and from the first time he appears to the final frame when he walks out of the picture, there is a constant feeling of melancholy knowing that we will never see this brilliance again. But there is much to celebrate, as there could not be a better film for him to bow out on.
All the many pieces and parts begin to come together nicely towards the end, but just when we have things figured out,  A MOST WANTED MAN wraps with a mind-blowing shock of an ending which will have folk staggering out of the theatre, with a full understanding of just how the spy and espionage game works. A MOST WANTED MAN will be remembered in time as a great actor’s curtain call, but it should also be heralded as exquisite filmmaking.


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