Sunday, 31 May 2015
A Most Wanted Man (2014)
As much as I love John Le Carre I have to declare that his 2008 novel A Most Wanted Man is one which I actually gave up reading. I was determined not to let the big screen adaptation suffer the same fate, though Anton Corbijn didn't make it easy with his decision to film the action on what looks like videotape, lending the proceedings the less than flattering air of a 1990s US TV movie. Nevertheless, he has managed to create a perfect slowburn of a movie, infused with a particular kind of disquiet that is quintessentially Le Carre.
Post 9/11 Hamburg - the city where the attacks were planned - is our scene; a world of spies desperate to ensure such an atrocity never occurs again, of intelligence agencies who compete with one another and believe they alone have the power and skillset to keep people safe. But the pervading air of cynicism shows us that this is all a bit too late - the stable door is being shut long after the horse has bolted and what we're witness to here is the blind fury of operatives busying themselves to justify their own past mistakes and lack of foresight.
In his final leading role Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as Le Carre's crumpled, weary German spymaster Günther Bachmann whose team have located an illegal Chechen immigrant and suspected terrorist named Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) who has arrived by circuitous route to Hamburg armed with a letter of introduction to Thomas Brue, a private banker played by Willem Dafoe and a desire to empty a numbered account at his bank and seek asylum. He is helped in this introduction by Rachel McAdams' idealistic young German civil rights lawyer, Annabel Richter, who finds herself becoming a person of interest for Bachmann and his team as a result. Meanwhile Bachmann snarls at and fends off his rivals, content to play the long game by hanging back on picking up Karpov because he suspects he will lead them to someone higher up the food chain. But is he right - can he effectively supervise the situation or will it blow up in his face?
The beauty of Le Carre as an author is his finger has consistently remained on the world's pulse ever since his breakthrough novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold in 1963. The Cold War may have long since been won, the USSR may have broken up and the Berlin Wall may have come down, but spying, ostensibly the true oldest profession remains the same and Le Carre's voice remains one that demands your attention regarding all of the world's hotspots and crises. In writing A Most Wanted Man, Le Carre posits the notion that the West took its eye off the ball after 9/11 to tackle the war on terror, little concerning themselves with Russia's wars in Chechnya (which they felt at the time was a much needed attack on Islamic insurgency) and their ambitions to expand into their territories. Like many a figure in previous Le Carre novels, whatever Karpov is and what he means, what form of threat he is to the West is, ironically, of the West's own making.
It's a suitably cold and distant film that ought to have some warmth, some level of connection in the central relationship between Karpov and Annabel, but Corbijn muffs it repeatedly and there's little for Dobrygin and McAdams to effectively work with. In the end they are overshadowed by Hoffman's performance and the tragic reality that his premature death lends it. Nevertheless it is a fitting end to the work of one of the best actors to emerge in recent years.