In the frantic search for answers following 9/11 it was discovered that many of the plans for the attacks were conceived in the historic port city of Hamburg, Germany. As a result, a watchful eye has been kept over the city, even a decade later. It is against this backdrop that Anton Corbijn‘s A Most Wanted Man takes place. Based on the novel of the same name by John le Carre, and using an adapted screenplay by Andrew Bovell, Corbijn has crafted a tense, moody thriller with an engaging plot, foregrounding the moral ambiguities inevitably entwined with espionage. It also contains Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last performance, reminding us again of his enormous talent.
Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) heads a clandestine anti-terrorist team in Hamburg. It is a small, strategic operation which looks at the larger picture, practicing patience and restraint when necessary so that their efforts are focussed on procuring higher profile individuals. His methods are out of sync with his more bureaucratic boss, who would prefer to follow leads by apprehending suspects first. Subsequently, when the mysterious Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) arrives, bearing a history of torture, dubious familial connections and potential links to terrorist cells, a struggle ensues as to how best to approach the situation. Karpov eventually finds Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), a young idealistic lawyer who wants to help him obtain a sizable monetary inheritance from a bank owned by Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe). Additionally, Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), a CIA intelligence operative, mediates the taut relations between Gunther and his superiors. Together, they all become increasingly entangled in the moral quandaries of espionage.
Corbijn has produced a solid, involving thriller. It initially proceeds slowly, but through the steady and controlled unveiling of information a progressively more complex, layered plot unfolds. At its core, the film explores the tension between risking increasingly dangerous outcomes in order to follow suspects from a nervous distance, or arresting individuals immediately and potentially severing important ties to more fruitful leads.
It may not boast the style of fellow recent le Carre adaptation Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but it does share its ability to sustain a pervasive mood of doubt and uncertainty throughout. Inevitably, a large part of this success must be attributed to the actors. Dobrygin complicates his insular performance by infusing it with subtly unsettling moments, and both Defoe and Wright are clever enough to hint at possible ambiguities in their characters’ interests and motives. McAdams also takes full advantage of this opportunity to show more range, demonstrating passion and restraint in the right measure. But, unsurprisingly, it is Hoffman who dominates the film. His Gunther is intense, driven and ferocious, but even in quieter moments he is always fully engaged. Hoffman is an imposing screen presence, and this performance is another testament to his commitment in creating compelling, challenging characters.
Overall, A Most Wanted Man is a highly competent thriller, one that features assured direction and fine performances to explore the morally muddled terrain of espionage.
A Most Wanted Man is in Australian cinemas from July 31 through Roadshow.