Wednesday 17 September 2014


(Anton Corbijn, 2014)

A modern spy story -  meaning it details the obsessive efforts of a small team of intelligence operatives to halt the activities of Islamist extremists -  A Most Wanted Man deals in the classic iconography and conventions of a Cold War thriller. It is set in an Autumnal Northern European city - Hamburg, in this case. Its characters are rumpled and cynical, broken by their profession. People smoke a lot, drink even more, conduct meetings beneath motorway overpasses and in waste ground. Betrayal is a constant possibility.
Lead Gunther (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) trails a traumatic, career-destroying disaster in the Middle East, where an American error blew his Intelligence networks and agents who trusted him died. Banished to Hamburg, his small team spots the arrival of a Chechen with links to terrorism. Gunther spots a way to use him to trap some much bigger game; a famed Muslim activist named Dr Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), who uses his charitable works to conceal links with Al Qaeda.
The plot follows Gunther's attempts to keep his superiors and rivals within German Intelligence at bay while also fending off the CIA (personified here by Robin Wright's cold, sharp agent). At the same time he is using a Liberal immigration lawyer (Rachel McAdams) to manoeuvre the Chechen into helping capture Abdullah.
Corbijn directs it all with a great feel for architecture and place - the 60s block where Gunther's team are based is a beautifully brutalist location - which helps lend it a nice chilly feel. The people are guarded and paranoid, driven by duty and mostly untroubled by conscience until everything goes wrong, which it does in every spy story ever. This is a Le Carre adaptation and Gunther is a classic Le Carre hero - more of an idealist than he initially seems, excellent at his job, not the smoothest of politicians. Hoffman is typically superb; his wheeze convenys more emotion than most actors can manage in long monologues.
Although this is the type of film where everybody speaks English in a German accent, it is never less than utterly convincing, and it builds up slowly into a quietly riveting thriller for grown-ups, no set-pieces, just engrossing dialogue scenes.

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