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A Most Wanted Man – Movie Review

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A Most Wanted Man – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

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In the world of espionage thrillers, John le Carre adaptations occupy a different space from the James Bonds and the Jason Bournes of the film world. They tend to be more of a slow burn with atmosphere and intellectual discussions taking precedent over action. Attention is required, not that the occasional 007 adventure can’t be intellectually stimulating, but a film like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy requires a bit more pensive thought than even the best of Bond. A Most Wanted Man, the latest le Carre-based effort, may not reach the same heights as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or Tinker Tailor, but it nonetheless provides plenty of the same tension and political intrigue that made those so interesting.

Taking place in a post-9/11 world, A Most Wanted Man serves as a commentary on who really is the enemy. Looks can be deceiving and Andrew Bovell’s screenplay presents an ensemble of characters who wear masks of various forms. Even if the Cold War depicted in previous le Carre stories has long since passed, that feeling of un-trust is still ever-present. In this day and age, with the fear of potentially being watched, this film taps into that with the way the spies hide surveillance cameras in every possible nook and cranny, for the most shallow of reasons. Every character is nervous and uncertain about their security and the situations they find themselves in, creating plenty of tension. While German spy Gunther Bachmann is the main protagonist, there is enough development given to the title wanted man, his lawyer Annabel and the banker who is thrust into this case.

Being Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final lead role, it’s hard not to walk into the screening with that baggage in tow. He left a legacy of fantastic, memorable performances behind and it’s saddening to remember that once the final  Hunger Games is released next year, that will be the last we see of him. However, it’s a key to his skills as an actor that I forgot he had passed away shortly after he comes on screen. As Gunther, he has a quiet calculating effect and his German accent sounds natural, like he had always come from Hamburg. Hoffman portrays his frustrations very well and helps to make Gunther a flawed and real individual. Willem Dafoe steps out of his usual sandbox for a more subdued role than usual. His role as the slightly timid banker, who is consistently unsure of where his alignment with the spy agency will lead, is well handled and adds to the film’s tension. Rachel McAdams is less successful as Annabelle. She is not entirely believable in the part and she sounds like an actress putting on a German accent the entire time. With the plethora of great Western European actresses who could have been cast in the role (including a couple who appear in this very film), it is disappointing when somebody is hired partly for name recognition.

Like a lot of John le Carre adaptations, the ticking clock is emphasized through the dialogue rather than wire-cutting and car chases. While some viewers might be understandably bored by the film’s pace, it actually helps the suspense as there is always this sneaking suspicion that something bad is happening around the corner. Director Anton Corbijn goes at a necessary speed that helps develop both the characters and the situations, nicely marrying his direction with Bovell’s carefully plotted script. Cinematographer Benoit Delhomme’s atmospheric depiction of Hamburg captures the nighttime and daylight atmospheres of the city and takes a lot of the rigid German architecture into consideration when framing the shots.

While its only direct relation is having the same author, A Most Wanted Man could be a spiritual successor to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It is not quite as cinematic, but its depiction of spies piecing things together over cigarettes and talking leads to a number of comparisons. Even though it is set in present day, there is a period piece flavour to A Most Wanted Man and the use of technology is not so different from the espionage of MI6 in the 1960s. It is possible that Gunther Bachmann could very well have gotten along with George Smiley. There will be a number of people who will see this to witness one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final performances. In addition to seeing him displaying his acting chops, they will also got a well-plotted and quite tense spy flick.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison

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