Monday, August 18, 2014

A MOST WANTED MAN

For better or worse, Anton Corbijn's follow-up to The American will never be able to overcome the death of its star Philip Seymour Hoffman shortly after the completed film had had its Sundance premiere in January 2014. To compound matters, there is a sleight of hand typical of writer John le Carré around it: the "most wanted man" of its title is not Mr. Hoffman's character, the veteran German intelligence agent Günther Bachmann, but his "mark", Issa Karpov (Grigory Dobrygin), the Chechen son of a Russian officer who comes in announced into Hamburg and sets the plot in motion. A former terrorist affiliate who wishes to leave his past behind and use his late father's hidden, ill-begotten fortune to build himself a new life, Issa becomes unwittingly a pawn in an elaborate geostrategic chess game where the players have one aim but move towards it in conflicting means: Issa and Bachmann are both looking for some sort of redemption from past mistakes in a world where even the most infinitesimal mistake will haunt you forever.

     Unlike Mr. Corbijn's two previous features, Control and The American, this isn't a film where visuals take precedence, something that may make it a slightly unexpected choice for the director. However this is very clearly a sort of "rite of passage", a test to see if his sensibility can survive the requirements of a "studio film" (or what used to pass as one, since this avowedly mid-range, adult feature was produced independently by British and German funders). His victory is to make Mr. Le Carré's twisting, skewed plotting perfectly legible through pacing and structure, putting the singular visual stylings developed throughout his career as a photographer and promo video director on hold for the sake of the story. Mr. Corbijn is so uncannily aware where the strengths of the project lay that it can be somewhat shocking to realise the film could have been made by one of the quietly self-effacing school of British television directors - even up to the uniform excellence of the performances, all of which are given the space and the time to shine.

     A solid coterie of actors "colours in" the edges of the tale, from Willem Dafoe's bewildered banker to Rachel McAdams' conflicted, idealistic lawyer, with special attention to the always remarkable and always underrated Robin Wright as the American official whose doublespeak holds the key to Mr. Le Carré's typically melancholy plotting. For all that, Mr. Seymour Hoffman is the heart, soul and raison d'être of A Most Wanted Man - his soulful yet subdued performance as the downtrodden agent "scapegoated" for someone else's sins, looking for redemption in a big double-or-nothing bet, is yet another extraordinary entry in his series of men uneasy in their own skin. The whole is steadily steered by Mr. Corbijn towards an ending that works on both narrative and emotional levels, true to the novelist's disenchanted view of tradecraft but also to the deep-running emotion of Mr. Seymour Hoffman's performance. You can't help but feel that the meeting between actor and writer was destined to happen - and for that alone you are grateful A Most Wanted Man, even if more solid than extraordinary, is a good film.

A MOST WANTED MAN
United Kingdom, Germany, USA 2014
122 minutes
Cast Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Grigory Dobrygin, Homayoun Ershadi, Robin Wright
Director Anton Corbijn; screenwriter Andrew Bovell; based on the novel by John le Carré A Most Wanted Man; cinematographer Benoît Delhomme (colour, widescreen); composer Herbert Grönemeyer; designer Sebastian Krawinkel; costumes Nicole Fischnaller; editor Claire Simpson; producers Stephen Cornwell, Gail Egan, Malte Grunert, Simon Cornwell and Andrea Calderwood; production companies Filmfour, Demarest Films, Potboiler Productions, The Ink Factory and Amusement Park Film in co-production with Senator Film, in association with Filmnation Entertainment
Screened July 21st 2014, NOS Alvaláxia 1 (distributor press screening)

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