Film adaptations of John le Carré novels are arguably the most engrossing and intelligent spy thrillers around. Carré’s novels have been adapted for the big screen 8 times; the 9th and newest addition, Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, is among the finest of the adaptations and further proof of the quality of Carré’s works as inimitable sources of smart, thoughtful movies.
It is a subtle work and an exceedingly thrilling one. Yet the characters rarely, if ever, move at anything faster than a walk, or their cars the speed limit. Not until the finale does a true action sequence occur, and I am hard-pressed to remember the firing of a single weapon.
The movie follows Günther Bachmann, the head of the German’s Hamburg-based anti-terrorism espionage unit. He and his team move to acquire a newly arrived Chechen named Issa Karpov who is perceived as a potential future threat, while simultaneously tracking the activities of Muslim philanthropist Dr. Faisal Abdullah.
The movie thrives under Australian screenwriter Andrew Bovell’s rich, layered script, which is aided by Claire Simpson’s well-done, seamless editing and Benoit Delhomme’s intermittently interesting, always solid cinematography. His focus shifting, particularly during a scene of two of the characters playing chess, is rather brilliant, and the movie as a whole is gorgeously shot.
The cast is pretty close to uniformly great. In his final leading role, Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a powerful performance that rises above any minute limitations the script places upon him. He effortlessly embodies his German character, even though he abandons his nearly unintelligible accent within the first 5 minutes and adopts a completely un-German, though certainly altered, accent. This shift is the only misstep in his otherwise sterling work.
The main supporting cast is rather good. Rachel McAdams, despite an awkward, rocky start, she settles in nicely, and while she never escapes her tendency to give performances that feel oddly empty (a quality that made her best performance to date, Mean Girls, unforgettable), she still fulfills her role admirably.
Robin Wright plays a role somewhat similar to her role on House of Cards, and she plays it quite convincingly. I could have used slightly more of the deviousness she utilizes so well in House of Cards.
Outside of Hoffman, Willem Dafoe gives the best performance in the movie. He rather effectively portrays the porous pompousness of his rich banker as well as his strong desire to right the wrongs of his father.
The cast’s weaknesses come in the smaller, yet pivotal parts. Grigoriy Dobrygin, despite actually being Russian, has an rather unconvincing Russian accent as Issa Karpov, and Homayoun Ershadi’s performance as Dr. Abdullah is nothing special.
The movie’s best quality, even better than Hoffman, is Corbijn’s direction. The Dutchman, who made his name as the music video director and visual creative director for both Depeche Mode and U2, showed his skill at the slow-burn thriller with The American, and his work here cements his abilities as perhaps the foremost director in the genre around today. His every move is masterful and only serves to build the tension that makes the movie so thrilling.
All the unqualified praise I have heaped upon the movie, there is one weakness that also plagued Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. There just seems to be something missing. The suspense is there, and so is the high quality of the contributing elements, but it never quite reached the heights it needs to reach masterpiece level.
Overall, it’s a great movie with an interesting dilemma. We all want the world to be a better place, but what’s the best method to achieve that end: Take out your enemies or control them?