Directed by: Anton Corbijn
Produced by: Andrea Calderwood
Screenplay by: Andrew Bovell
Based on: A Most Wanted Man by John le Carre
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Music by: Herbert Gronemeyer
Cinematography by: Benoit Delhomme
Editing by: Claire Simpson
Studio(s): Demarest Films
The Ink Factory
Distributed by: Lionsgate (United States)
Entertainment One (United Kingdom)
Release date(s): January 19, 2014 (Sundance Film Festival)
July 25, 2014 (United States)
September 5, 2014 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 121 minutes
Country: United Kingdom
Production budget: $15 million (estimated)
Box-office revenue (as of publication): $17, 946, 584
Hahoy there, children, me again with the obligatory preamble paragraph! I've been keeping myself busy in general, back to tricks with the Scouts, security work and what have you, but because I've a little less on the plate as regards the latter, I've been able to get a bit more time to see movies, which I think is necessary, given that there's a few movies I've to see. Now, I'm not making any promises, in case I miss any, but right now at The Strand they're playing The Boxtrolls, The Equaliser, A Walk Among The Tombstones and Gone Girl, all of which I plan on seeing. Hopefully, I'll get to watch all of them, but there's always the chance I'll miss one or two. Anywho, as I am want to always mention, I have a good lot guaranteed, for I'll follow this with reviews for 20,000 Days On Earth, Maps To The Stars, rounding out August/September, and then I'll shoot onto October, starting off with Pride, Dracula Untold (which I saw at a matinee at the Dublin Road Movie House) and try to also put in words on Lone Survivor, Child Of God and Under The Skin soon enough. So, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!
Today's movie up for review is A Most Wanted Man, an adaptation of the 2008 John le Carre novel, whose work has been the source of film adaptations for nearly fifty years since 1965's film version of The Sky Who Came In From The Cold, plus several television production and radio plays based on his work. The film is perhaps most notable in an unfortunate manner due it being the last completed film released in the lifetime of the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman, the picture's central actor. Just to say a few words, Hoffman was in his lifetime and retrospectively is regarding as among the most admired and versatile actors of the past twenty years. His rich filmography, incredible for a man who died at the untimely age of forty-six, leaves one to only imagine what he could have done with another ten, or even twenty years. However, as beloved as Hoffman was and is, it's important to not let one's judgement be clouded by the positive sentiment at his vast body of work. The film is directed by Anton Corbijn, best known for a long time as a photographer and music video director, collaborating with the likes of the Art Of Noise, Echo & The Bunnymen, U2, Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Nirvana, Johnny Cash, Danzig, Rollins Band, Metallica, Coldplay, Arcade Fire and many more too numerous to put down here. Over the past decade though, he has carved himself a fine reputation as a feature filmmaker, his first two fiction features in Control and The American being outright masterpieces. Notwithstanding that both saw Corbijn's bring his trademark keen eye for beautiful photography over to the medium, but he also displayed a natural's ability to bring the best out in actors. Both of the leads in those films, Sam Riley and George Clooney, won Best Male Actor in a Leading Role for their performances as Ian Curtis and 'Jack' in 2007 and 2010 respectively. So, as I mentioned in relation to Hoffman, I was looking forward to this film as the third Anton Corbijn feature, but I can't let my good will cloud my judgements on the film as a separate work in itself. So, with that basil exposition out of the way, let's get down to the real plot synopsis: Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a refugee from Chechnya enter Hamburg, Germany, illegally. Learning of Karpov's presence by CCTV footage and confirming from Russian intelligence that he is considered to be an extremely dangerous terrorist, German espionage agent Gunther Bachmann (Hoffman) leads his team to investigate the man, taking them into a labyrinthine plot involving suspected funnelling of terrorist activities, money laundering and all sorts of things that make up for a potentially engaging espionage thriller of intrigue and mystery. Shall we dance?
Starting off with the good, as before in Corbijn's feature films, he gets a terrific central performance from his lead actor, as Philip Seymour Hoffman immerses himself into the character of Gunther Bachmann. Mastering the German accent and all the personality traits, such as the persistent smoking and drinking, not dissimilar to Humphrey Bogart's characters in that regard, he's fully believable as this driven individual, determined to crack this case. Not only that, but physically Hoffman is in synch with Bachmann, even right down to the heavy breathing with which he inflects him, suggesting the character having the weight of the world on his shoulders. It's not an Oscar-bait, show-off, "Look at me, I'm acting" kind of performance, but seeing as how Hoffman was always more interesting in playing people, it's a fine swansong to his career and life. While Hoffman delivers the key performance, there are also some other good ones. I thought that Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Nina Hoss, Willem Dafoe and Grigoriy Dobrygin were all solid in their parts. McAdams and Dobrygin share a number of strong scenes together, both idealists who believe in their respective goals, and there are a couple of twists and turns along the way which make their relationship move in mysterious ways, to use a term, adding a great level of tension to the plot. This point here brings me to the film's script by Andrew Bovell. For the most part, this is a masterful, tightly wound plot, which is kept interesting and full of tension throughout. Bovell subtly adds layers of density and intricacy, building up all of our questions and interest in the story, right up until the ending, which I won't get into detail about, but I have to say is perhaps the best executed one I have seen all year so far. The dialogue too displays a good ear, in that we have all of the intelligence terms of reference and glossary mixed in with the basil exposition, so that the plot drives forward while feeling suitably realistic. The conversations in the film are engaging and generally poetry to the ear. It reminds me of something that would go down well on stage; after all, much of the movie consists of, and derives it's tension from people talking. As I mentioned, there are a lot of questions brought up in the movie, and it's a constant guessing game as to who's working with who, who's conning who etc., giving it a very paranoid atmosphere. It's also splendidly shot by Benoit Delhomme, whose photography gives A Most Wanted Man an elegant, art deco look. One of the recurring traits of this film is a sort of minimalism, which is as prominent in the cinematography as, say, in Herbert Gronemeyer's score. There's nothing overt about the movie, and it does not force itself upon the audience. It's an example of classical film storytelling being done rather well. Finally, Anton Corbijn, although delivering what is perhaps his most straightforward film, proves once again that he is a talent to be reckoned with. Having already done one of the great rock biopics and an art-house inspired thriller, it's interesting to see Corbijn ply his craft to the espionage thriller, and from what we see here, he's more than up to the task, for this is an intelligent, edgy and classy thriller.
However, much as I liked A Most Wanted Man, I think that it would be dishonest to overlook a few of the film's flaws that deny it from entering the upper echelons. The last film I reviewed was Lucy, a film which I deemed could not be a masterpiece on the basis that it was not designed to aspire to this level of greatness, whereas A Most Wanted Man's issues fit in with that of most other pictures, as in obvious flaws which the filmmakers did not purposefully introduce.
(At this point here, Blogger decided to once again play it's hand in excising some of my critical arguments by freezings on it's 'Insert Image' window before it had managed to load up the option of cancelling out or closing the window so it was impossible for me to select the 'Save' option: thanks for that one guys! It doesn't happen often, but I would like to be able article write my articles without having to lose two paragraphs worth of material because an error outside of my control! Back to A Most Wanted Man. In a nutshell, what I said was wrong with the film was that while Bovell's screenplay is strong, some of the characters are underwritten and that this flaw crossed over into the acting department. As such, a talented actor like Daniel Bruhl plays a nothing role whose shoes part could have been filled by anyone. I then concluded by saying that despite these issues, I found it to be an intelligent, classy and edgy thriller. Grounded by a terrific central performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, who's surrounded by a mostly on-form supporting cast who are buoyed by a largely solid screenplay. I also found the minimalist photography by Benoit Delhomme to be very elegant and art deco inspired, following the 'less is more' aesthetic philosophy, but that good cinematography should be no surprise considered Anton Corbijn's involved. My final note was that Corbijn was more than poised to deal with this material, which to say is his 'worst film' does it a disservice, considering Control and The American were masterpieces, and that he is one of the most interesting auteurs of the past ten years.)
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.3/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Sniffly, phlegmy, sneezy (after working in too much cold weather, I'm sure I look like a hillbilly version of Wendell from The Simpsons)