The late Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in this espionage thriller about the search for Chechen immigrant Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), who is deemed a threat to security upon illegally entering Hamburg.
Adapted from a John le Carré novel, A Most Wanted Man takes its time and eschews action in favour of authenticity. The result is an involving spy flick that will keep you stuck to your seat, if not teetering on the end of it. Politically complex and sensitively handled, the film avoids delineation between the good guys and bad guys, offering an atypically critical depiction of the war on terror.
This admirable refusal to pander is sadly undermined by the stupid decision to have the characters speak English with German accents. We are perfectly capable of accepting that they would be speaking German, without having to watch Willem Dafoe and Rachel McAdams conversing one-on-one in fake German accents. That said, the adoption of a German accent has the seemingly impossible effect of making Willem Dafoe appear even more evil than usual. You expect him to pull on some black leather gloves at any moment.
It’s Philip Seymour Hoffman who stands out though, with a great screen presence that will be sorely missed. His character’s constant smoking and endless drinking may make him something of a cliché, but as in this year’s The Keeper of Lost Causes, these traits feel more like genre riffs than creative laziness. Grigoriy Dobrygin is strong too, bringing a crucial vulnerability to the role of Issa Karpov. Anton Corbijn directs with authenticity and atmosphere, shooting on location in Hamburg with careful attention to the distant sounds of the busy port and the reflective sheen of rain on the pavements.
Anyone even slightly familiar with the work of John le Carré will know of his preference for slow-burning betrayal over fast-paced action, and this adaptation makes for fine rainy-Sunday-afternoon viewing. It never reaches the celebrated heights of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but by favouring plot over action and mood over violence, A Most Wanted Man proves a most satisfying film.