Director: Anton Corbijn
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Willem DaFoe, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Grigoriy Dobrygin
Written by: Andrew Bovell and (based on the novel) John Le Carre
Running Time: 122 mins
Release date: 12th September 2014
Watching this slow-burning spy thriller that doesn’t exactly speed along, the one thing that impresses upon you more than anything, is how much we are going to miss Philip Seymour Hoffman. The big man died earlier this year and here he shows that his was an actor at the top of his game and that his passing is a tragedy. Thankfully, we have performances like this to remember him by.
Issa Karpov is a half-Chechen, half-Russian who has appeared in Hamburg after escaping from torture. This brings up interest from a secret service in the country, especially from disgruntled agent, Günther Bachmann. When he discovers that Karpov has inherited a fortune from his father, he moves in to try to use this to bring to the surface a much bigger fish in the terrorist game. Faced with uncertainty from other sectors and from the Americans, Bachmann uses banker Tommy Brue and Islamic lawyer Annabel Richter to help put his plan in action.
Based on the novel by John Le Carre, this is a typical Le Carre spy thriller; plenty of intrigue and double-crossing told at almost a snail’s pace. This is not for those who want high action and fast editing. In fact, director Anton Corbijn’s film feels like it has come to a complete stop in places. This, however, is so the audience can digest every inch of information as it heads towards one of the tenses finales in a film this year.
It has the air of a Bourne film but without the fights and spectacular car chases, using shaky cam wherever possible as we try to piece together exactly why these less-than glamourous secret agents are so interested in this scruffy vagrant who no one fully understands his business in this cold and uninviting country. Not that Hamburg is that, just that here it has a sense of foreboding, a feeling of starkness.
It might be a struggle to keep going through the film, as the wordy script moves along but then in the final half hour, it picks up to a scene very reminiscent to the printing sequence in the Harrison Ford thriller Clear And Present Danger. Never has the signing of a document been so tense and nail-biting.
The performances from the very strong cast, as you would expect, is exceptional. Robin Wright, donning jet black hair, is fine as the American but she doesn’t have too much to really do. Willem Dafoe as banker Brue, is surprisingly understated, as a man dragged into the intrigue kicking and screaming. The normally mildly flamboyant DaFoe shows great restraint, showing his capability as an intense actor. Rachel McAdams surprises too, as lawyer Annabel. With her neatly placed Eastern European accent, she shines as the tough girl who sides with Karpov. It’s proof she has plenty to offer this world of acting.
At the heart of this film is the mighty Seymour Hoffman. This is a masterclass of subtlety, of intense control and of ultimate power. He doesn’t just commands the film, he controls it and takes to areas no one expects. In Bachmann, he has created a character that is both massively flawed and yet full of passion for his job. A hard-drinking man with a past that haunts him, Hoffman doesn’t need to do a thing yet sit silently for us to feel his pain. The final scene is one of such power and horror that it shakes the rest of the film into life, as if the past 2 hours have been building up to that one shocking moment, showing just how good the man was.
A Most Wanted Man is not for everyone and those who liked Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, might find it hard going. If you want intelligent, quietly intense story telling, then this might be right up your alley but you cannot deny that the main reason to see this film is to see an acting giant at his finest.