intelligence gathering sometimes involves cloak-and-dagger work, but there is
also a lot of bureaucracy. That has always been a side of the secretive
business novelist John le Carré has been closely in touch with. For better or
worse, all the hallmarks of a le Carré bestseller are to be found in Anton
Corbijn’s adaptation of his A Most Wanted
opens this Thursday in New York.
was the city where the September 11th terrorist attacks were planned—a
fact German intelligence is keenly aware of. It was not Gunther Bachmman’s
territory at the time, but the spymaster is still in need of redemption. He was
transferred to port city after his Beirut network was exposed. The who’s, how’s,
and why’s remain murky, but there is no question regarding damage done to his
career. However, the world weary scotch drinker has big game in his sights: Dr.
Faisal Abdullah, an ostensive philanthropist and advocate of Muslim tolerance,
whom Bachmann has reason to suspect is furtively funneling funds to terrorist
old school to his bones, Bachmann eschews interrogations or anything physical.
He prefers to trap his prey and then turn them into assets. That is the plan
with Abdullah, using the poor hapless Issa Karpov as bait. The son of a Chechen
woman and a high ranking (and therefore corrupt) Soviet military officer,
Karpov understandably identifies with his mother’s side of the family. Escaping
his Russian torturers, Karpov has been branded an Islamist terrorist, but
Bachmann is skeptical. Dieter Mohr, a more politically sensitive rival from an
overlapping agency, would prefer to arrest the Chechen with great fanfare, but
Bachmann sees the newly arrived asylum-seeker as an opportunity.
it turns out, Karpov’s despised old man had an account in Hamburg—an account
large enough to be a chip in Bachmann’s game. However, to play it, he will have
to handle Karpov’s immigration attorney, Annabel Richter, and Tommy Brue, the
banker holding his funds. Unfortunately, Bachmann is a le Carré protagonist,
which means he must spend a great deal of time in boardrooms convincing
dim-witted ministers to go along with his plan. For now, Martha Sullivan, the
regional CIA string-puller, will give him time, but her patience and Bachmann’s
trust are limited.
you like your thrillers talky, you are already a le Carré reader and therefore
thoroughly primed for Wanted. On the
plus side, Corbijn’s is fully stocked with intelligent characters and meaty
dialogue heavy with meaning. Conversely, le Carré’s moral equivalency between
all parties is present in full force, as well as an aversion to cinematic
action. Although its running time clocks in just over two hours, the ending
still feels unsatisfyingly unfinished, leaving viewers to wonder if everyone
would really leave things as they are.
course, the primary, if not only reason to see Wanted is the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who fits into the role of
Bachmann like a comfortably rumpled suit. Le Carré has said Hoffman is the only
American who could play his iconic George Smiley—and it is easy to see what he
means. Bachmann and Smiley are clearly cut from same cloth, while Hoffman, Gary
Oldman, and Alec Guinness were/are some of the smartest, most engaging actors
in the business.
mushy German accent also works rather well in context, but Rachel McAdams is
not nearly as convincing as Richter, the slumming daughter of privilege human
rights attorney. At least Willem Dafoe certainly looks at home as Brue, the self-loathing
banker. Sadly, Nina Hoss does not have much to do as Bachmann’s lieutenant,
Irna Frey, but she classes up the joint, nonetheless. Most of the German
cast-members largely serve as window dressing, especially Rush’s Daniel Brühl, who is about as easy to spot as Tony Curtis in
The List of Adrian Messenger playing
one of Bachmann’s surveillance specialists. Arguably, it is Robin Wright who
best hangs with Hoffman, warily sparring with his Bachmann as the suspiciously
Wisely, Andrew Bouvell’s adapted screenplay
somewhat waters down the criticism of post-9-11 American foreign policy, but
anti-Americanism is baked into the fiber of le Carré’s source novel. Yet, it is
the film’s brief but explicit criticisms of Putin’s Russia that feel timelier
now. Corbijn has a good eye for the project, capturing the cold, cerebral world
of intrigue and modernist architecture. There is much to admire about it, but
aside from Hoffman’s haggard everyman performance, the film does it best to
keep viewers at arm’s length, like a film that does not want to be wanted.
Recommended for knowing fans of le Carré and Hoffman, A Most Wanted Man opens this Thursday night (7/24) in New York at
the Landmark Sunshine.
Labels: John le Carre, Nina Hoss, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Willem Dafoe