Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man is a film that shows the reality of spying. Eschewing James Bond and Jason Bourne style hijinks, this John le Carré adaptation presents the bureaucracy behind espionage. Corbijn’s film is a well crafted post-911 paranoia piece, but it never realises its full potential as a captivating drama.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is Günther Bachmann, a German spy based in Hamburg tracking Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a Chechnyan refugee who Bachmann believes is a spy. Caught up in Bachmann’s investigation is Rachel McAdams’s lawyer and Willem Dafoe’s corrupt banker. There isn’t slam-bam action on-hand here. A Most Wanted Man is a deliberately paced film filled with detail on the logistics of spying. At times it comes across as a highbrow Mission: Impossible as Hoffman and his team attempt to access information in a host of nefarious ways.
Much like director Anton Corbijn’s last ‘thriller’ The American, A Most Wanted Man ditches the usual genre tropes in order to shine a light on the quieter aspects of world it inhibits. Corbjin manages to create a world that feels real, however it’s almost too cold to get audience engagement. Corbijn film is a bit low-key and he alienates his audience with its languid pace.
A Most Wanted Man features Philip Seymour Hoffman final lead performance and he brings an authenticity to his role as a world-weary spy. Again it’s a role that exists in order to show how unglamorous the world of espionage really is. Less successful is Rachel McAdams, who fails to bring anything special to her part of the lawyer eager to help Dobrygin’s emotionally wounded immigrant. Willem Dafoe sparkles in his minor role, while Robin Wright makes an appearance as an American who may or may not be willing to help Hoffman’s spymaster.
Solid without ever being outstanding, A Most Wanted Man never truly captivates. Anton Corbijn’s film is a handsome but soulless production that never manages to meet the high standard of other John le Carré adaptations like The Tailor of Panama or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It’s far from a disaster but this should have been so much better because of the talent involved.