John le Carre’s work has provided film makers a steady stream of conspiratorial inspiration over the years. His last adapted work Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was a hit with critics and audiences (despite being pretty dull). Now famed music photographer Anton Corbijn follows up the fetishist precision of assassin thriller The American with a subtle study of the seemingly ramshackle world of the German intelligence system.
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Günther, a big fish in the German intelligence. He has a whole team of informants working for him that he looks over like a patriarch, ensnaring people involved on the fringes of criminal activities to collect information. Two of these include Rachel McAdams human rights lawyer, who is representing Chechnyan refuggee Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin) and Willem Dafoe’s private banker who holds the keys to Issa’s fortune. Günther and his team believe Issa will lead them on to a Muslim philantropist Dr. Abdullah who they suspect is funneling funds to a terrorist cell. It’s all very domino effect. Watching over the team is US diplomat Sullivan (Robin Wright) who is one false step away from handing over control of the sting to Günther’s American counterparts.
Corbijn and le Carre may sound a strange pairing on paper. The world famous music photographer with a master of slow-burning spy storytelling. What both men’s work does have in common is an eye and ear for finding beauty in the seemingly mundane. As with his last film Corbijn takes great delight in filming moments that seem insignificant but all work together to create a solid character piece. A Most Wanted Man juggles a lot of characters, including Günther’s aides Max (Daniel Bruhl) and Leyla (Derya Alabora). Only Bruhl, seems wasted in a relatively wordless role. It’s probably a safe bet to say he has scenes on the cutting room floor.
Hoffman manages to combine the quiet menace of The Master and the disarming shlubbiness Synedoche, New York to great effect. Günther, much like le Carre’s ultimate hero Smiley is a man of high intelligence and few words. His posture and slight tilts of the face provide most of the information. Hoffman is watch-able as always, even if he seems to be channelling a latter day Richard Burton somewhat. With a plot that could easily become overly convoluted and hard to follow to the point of disinterest Corbijn manages to keep the film’s pace steady enough. If you’re familiar with other le Carre works you’ll know that this stories are procedural affairs. This isn’t; running down hallways firing guns wildly spy-manship. This is people sat in cars talking quietly which allows moments of anger and violence to hold real effect, as they would in the real world.
A subtle thriller that is far more rewarding than the recent Tinker, Tailor… adaptation. Anton Corbijn is much more intrigued with the characters and story without over-stylising. But of course this being one of his films it still looks glorious.
A Most Wanted Man is released on Blu-Ray and DVD on January 19 via Entertainment One.