“To make the world a safer place.”
Director Anton Corbijn followed up his slow paced thriller, The American, with this spy thriller which requires the audience’s full attention if they want to understand what is going on with the plot. It is a film driven by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s lead performance (which also happened to be his last one) which makes up for some of the minor flaws of the film. Despite being a slow film, this character kept me engaged with the story. Comparisons with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy came across my mind about fifteen minutes into the film due to the overall tone and pacing of the story along with the cynicism surrounding some of the characters and the double crossing that takes place between the different agencies. It’s a sort of cat and mouse tale that takes its time to establish itself. I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy, but A Most Wanted Man is a very solid thriller which could have benefited with a little more suspense and tension. I later discovered that the film is based on John le Carré’s novel, who also happened to write the novel for TTSS so I wasn’t entirely crazy when I was comparing the two films. John le Carré was a former British spy so he really knows what he is writing about and his novels have proven to be great source material for films. The characters and the spy stories have a genuine and authentic feel to them. It didn’t hurt either that Philip Seymour Hoffman was chosen for the lead role because he drives the entire film from the opening scene to the very end (and what a great scene that was).
This isn’t your average procedural spy film, it is more interested in portraying how the system works. Each agency despite trying to work together seems to have different agendas. We also get a glimpse as to how the bureaucracy functions in these type of situations. Some are looking for quick fixes while other try to dig a little deeper and are more concerned with looking for the bigger fish and protecting the innocent. We see these differing view points through the main characters of the film who all do what they believe is right. So we get real characters who aren’t simply painted as good or bad people. Through the way they operate we discover their philosophy and the way they are thinking. As interesting as these characters are at times the film does lack to build more tension and tends to alienate the audience.
As I mentioned above, Philip Seymour Hoffman drives this film with his powerful yet subtle performance as this German security agent who is trying to avoid another 9/11 disaster. It is a cynical world in which he lives in and his physical performance translates how exhausted he is feeling. It is such a genuine performance and he never misses a note. The cast is very strong as well, with solid supporting performances from Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, and Nina Hoss. I was disappointed that Daniel Bruhl was underused because he has proven to be a great actor and he should have been given a more substantial role in this film. Despite the strong cast no one seems to be at the same level as Philip Seymour Hoffman was in this film. His scene in the end was one of the best performed I've seen all year.
My only major complaint with A Most Wanted Man is the use of German accents. I understand that they would speak to American agents with these heavy accents, but it took me out of the movie when they would speak amongst themselves in English as well. I wonder why audiences seem to think it is more believable if they speak english in their german accents, when in reality it doesn’t make much sense, you might as well just let them speak plain english. But that is just a minor issue I had here because the film delivered strong performances and it was a solid and intelligent spy thriller.