A Most Wanted Man (Movie) script by Andrew Bovell; based on the novel by John le Carré; directed by Anton Corbijn; starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Homayoan Ershadi,
Mehdi Dehbi, Nina Hoss, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe.
The obvious reason for seeing this movie is that it’s the final performance of one of the great actors of our time:
Philip Seymour Hoffman. But is there any other reason?
Perhaps....if you’re keen on spy/thriller movies.
In this one, Günther Bachmann (Mr. Hoffman) is tracking Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin),
a suspected Islamic terrorist, who has roots in Russia and Chechnya, and who has arrived in Hamburg. Günther and his team suspect that Issa has come to town to access a fortune left in a Hamburg bank by his deceased
father. Presumably, Issa is going to funnel the funds to terrorist groups through a high profile Muslim (Homayoan Ershadi)
who makes a big show of rounding up money for worldwide charities but who, Günther believes,
is siphoning off large amounts of the charitable donations and directing them to terrorist causes. Because the genre demands
that there be pressure on our hero, both the Americans and the Germans are insisting that Günther
hand over Issa before he sets off a bomb in Hamburg. But Günther insists that he has to
allow Issa to conclude the handover of the money and thus to provide the required proof of the terrorist connection.
The movie has all the trappings you expect from this kind of thing. For the first half hour, hardly any scene lasts
more than 30 seconds. Enigmatic tidbits are being thrown at you so fast that it’s hard to get your bearings. People
are always talking in an ominous way about the anonymous "They," as in: "They are watching you." Characters utter cryptic
comments like: "What’s to stop me from walking away from this, whatever this is?" The photography and art direction
establish a film noir-ish atmosphere. Settings ranging from the ultra-modern villas and office buildings to the dingiest of
bars and dives. The design rises to the heights of actual video art in some scenes that take place in an apartment that’s
being renovated. The characters step through openings in sheets of plastic hanging from the ceiling and wander around the
desolate premises like characters in a Samuel Beckett play.
Before long, you begin to twig to the movie’s association with a novel. That’s because it’s so tightly
structured, not to say contrived; it doesn’t evolve in the more spontaneous, organic way that a movie does when it’s
entirely original. It’s no surprise, then, when you find out, eventually, that A Most Wanted Man is based on
the novel by John LeCarré. I wonder what an author like him thinks about the way music
is used to bring his work to the screen. In this case, the music – although extremely effective and impressive –
is so intrusive that I kept wondering what it would be like for somebody to watch the movie without having their emotions
manipulated by the music almost more than by any other element in the film. Whether by music or other means, the filmmakers
do manage to build terrific suspense towards the end of the movie – which is all the more astounding considering the
fact that, in the final scenes, we’re not facing a life-and-death situation; it’s only about the signing of a
piece of paper.
Although you don’t expect much insight or depth from a movie like this, a couple of scenes offer glimpses of human
interaction that are surprisingly touching. In one scene, Günther is giving a pep talk
to a young Muslim (Mehdi Dehbi) who has been acting as an informer for him but who now has cold feet and wants out of the
game. They’re conferring on the back deck of a ferry that’s crossing the harbour. Mr. Hoffman grabs the young
guy in a bear hug and speaks directly into his ear. It’s so startling that you think something huge is going to happen:
one of them is going to get shot or stabbed. Or is Mr. Hoffman going to kiss the guy? No, it’s just an intimate moment
where an older guy is employing his whole being in order to convey his need of the younger guy.
The other sensitive moment comes when Issa is playing chess with a young lawyer (Rachel McAdams) who has been trying to
represent him as a legitimate refugee claimant. Up to this point, we have seen Issa as a strict, sober and
reticent Muslim. He hardly ever looks anybody in the eye. But now he starts telling the lawyer about his ghastly family history.
Tenderness is in the air. He gets up and comes towards her. You’re thinking: ok, this is where the sex comes in.
But no, he simply crouches down and awkwardly nuzzles her chest. He may be crying but it’s hard to tell. It lasts
for a couple of seconds, then its over. So much revealed, so simply!
Strange to say, we never do find out much about how Günther’s team fits into
the law enforcement picture. They work in what looks like a makeshift office hidden in some warehouse. He says at one point
that his team does not officially exist because their spying – which involves a certain amount of judicious abduction
– is illegal. So who is funding their operation? Nor do we ever find out much about Günther
as a person. It strikes me as rather unusual to watch a movie in which the central character remains pretty much a mystery.
Or is this a convention of spy movies? Or of John LeCarré novels? Part of the puzzle,
for me, had to do with his accent. He sounded like a European, not necessarily German, who had learned English from a Welshman.
Richard Burton, maybe? Mr. Hoffman looks bloated and fed up, which works well for the character of Günther. Given what we sadly know of Mr. Hoffman’s fate, it’s hard not to read into this performance
a kind of farewell. Just once or twice, he lets slip a wry smirk that seems to say: it’s all pretty ridiculous, isn’t