You Want To See “A Most Wanted Man”
Few writers can match the insightful and spellbinding complexities of being a spy like John le Carre (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), for not only does he understand the methodical realities of spying, he also knows all too well the politics behind the spy operations. In A Most Wanted Man, he has once again given us a book that has been masterfully translated by director Anton Corbijn and screenwriter Andrew Bovell into a fast-moving peek into the maze that is counter intelligence as it looks into possible terrorism after the 9/11 attack on America.
Fortunately for le Carre, and us, he has the late-great Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last film role to play Gunther Bachmann, the head of a covert German spy operation attempting to bring down a suspected terrorist played by Homayoun Ershadi (The Kite Runner). To get to him, Gunther begins to connect the dots to another man who has secretly shown up in Hamburg by the name of Issa Karpov (Grigori Dobrygin). What Gunther does not know is if Karpov is a terrorist with connections, or just a tortured man who has recently been in Russia and Chechnya and has come to Hamburg to claim a small fortune his dead father has left him.
Like all le Carre stories, this demands attention to the screen as multiple characters flow in and out of sight in ways that don’t immediately add clarity to the plot. These characters are played by a spectacular supporting cast made up of Robin Wright, William Dafoe, Nina Hoss, and Rachel McAdams among others. Each of these add immensely to the complexities of the story, and add depth and breadth to the people they portray, no matter how small the role.
Corbin keeps the action moving and the interest in the Karpov front and center as an American lawyer played by McAdams tries to get him legal residency in Germany, all of this happening while Gunther watches with increasing interest as Karpov moves about the city of Hamburg. The city, not often seen in films, feels fresh, mysterious and beautiful as photographed here by Benoit Delhomme.
Ultimately though, this is a film in which Philip Seymour Hoffman shines brighter than anything else. Le Carre was not sure he wanted Hoffman for this role until the actor showed up in character with his slightly disheveled suit, his rather odd way of walking, and the slight German accent he uses for the role of Gunther. The author knew then that this was his man. Le Carre’s spies are as far from James Bond as you can get—remember Alec Guiness or Gary Oldman as George Smiley—and Hoffman is about as unglamorous, intelligent and world-weary a spy as you could ever want.
To say Philip Seymour Hoffman will be missed is an understatement of the highest magnitude.