Film & TV

Review – A Most Wanted Man

Anton Corbijn’s film version of John le Carré’s novel follows Günter Wachtmann (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) as he attempts to track a Chechen Muslim in the hope that he will lead him to supporters of Al-Qaeda. However, Wachtmann must deal with factions within German Intelligence and interference from the CIA or else risk losing his lead and, maybe, people’s lives.

A Most Wanted Man does convincingly establish the fear and paranoia of the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the ending is certainly effective, but the overall feel of the film is languid and deflated. It is probably very accurate in its unglamourous representation of espionage and its considered, slow-burning pace is a delight to see in contemporary cinema, but it lacks the tension and engagement of trashier spy films, and even similar, more admirable efforts like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.


Nevertheless, Corbijn does handle himself very well as director, framing the action with interesting images and getting some great performances out of his actors. The opening shot of water rising in a loch effectively pitches the still yet ominous tone of what is to come, while the film’s intrigue is maintained with the way the camera feels constantly like a fly on the wall (albeit one with a good view). Director Corbijn, cinematographer Benoît Delhomme, and editor Claire Simpson have all made their work as invisible as possible, allowing the audience to lose themselves in the story and characters.

Indeed, the film is largely held together by the strength of its ensemble cast. A lot has been said about Hoffman, and his performance is certainly worthy of such acclaim. His Wachtmann is not as cold as George Smiley but is similarly subdued and world-weary. Hoffman’s stature, facial expressions, and mannerisms portray a truly solitary man, defiantly holding the weight of the world on his shoulders. He is natural, believable and tragic in some of his most magnificent work.

But he is not alone.


Rachel McAdams puts in her best performance in a long time as a liberal lawyer who helps refugees gain asylum. She gives her role a grace and dignity that prevents it becoming a hollow cliché, and everything about her is credible, confident and engaging. Furthermore, Willem Dafoe is excellent as a CEO embroiled in the plot by his father’s acquaintance with the Russian Mafia. He manages the surprising feat of playing a likeable banker and is completely convincing as a flawed but innocent bystander thrown into the mix of international diplomacy and espionage.

Robin Wright is also on top form as Wachtmann’s slippery American counterpart. Wright creates a charming yet unwholesome figure who is amiable but hard to trust. Grigoriy Dobrygin plays the haunted Chechen Issa Karpov with a quiet but commanding presence. It’s such a shame that his character is given such little coverage, which is part of a general problem with the film.


A Most Wanted Man contains many instances where development and explanations are lacking, despite a consistently plodding pace during the simplest of scenes. Admittedly, this can be moving (as in a solitary moment between Wachtmann and his adviser that seems to suggest an aborted courtship), and it does add to the atmosphere of a world so full of uncertainty and subterfuge, but while nuance and subtlety are important, there’s only so much you can keep from the audience before they get bored or confused.

Overall, this is a finely crafted, well-intentioned film with strong performances and an authentic feel to its world of spies. However, its slow pace and fleeting references to themes such as divisions within intelligence agencies, and mistreatment of suspects and prisoners is both simplistic and unsatisfying, as is its undeveloped characterisation of Muslims. In the end, the effectiveness and tone of the film are more akin to ambitious but facile thrillers, such as The Interpreter, Body of Lies or The Green Zone rather than Tinker Tailor, and, ultimately, it seems that the filmmakers and audience know as little about what is going on as the characters themselves.

Jake Leonard


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