On paper, A Most Wanted Man, should have been a perfect night out at the cinema. A thriller, starring the tremendous Phillip Seymour Hoffman, directed by Anton Corbijn and based on a John Le Carré novel. Sadly, on paper was as exciting as it got. Despite a solid cast, excellent source material and an utterly topical subject matter, A Most Wanted Man is turgid, dry and disappointingly predictable.
Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a Chechin Muslim with a penchant for lingering menacingly in underpasses and doorways, illegally immigrates to present day Hamburg and finds himself at the centre of the war on terror maelstrom. His character is a curious mix of doe-eyed innocence and threatening fugitive. And yet, he is rather bland. He barely speaks other than to reveal a half-baked back story about his teenage mother and inheriting millions from his radicalised, militant father. His sudden appearance in a grey, graffiti-strewn Hamburg raises a red flag for Günther Bachman (Hoffman) and his team.
Sadly, this is not one of the exciting or mesmerising Hoffman performances that have gone before. He grumbles around in an ill-fitting raincoat like an overweight, bleary-eyed Columbo, muttering obscenities about his American counterparts. Despite the film’s setting being contemporary Hamburg, Bachmann is like a bad cliché of a 1970s television cop. Even his office, covered in tatty paperwork, drenched in harsh yellow lighting and clouded in a thick veil of cigarette smoke, is in need of an update. The two concepts don’t match up: the storyline and the setting are like two different eras colliding. Bachmann tosses back Scotch, chain smokes and hints at a past failure on the job in an accent that makes him sound German by way of Johannesburg and Moscow. It’s all incredibly two dimensional.
However, Hoffman is not alone in the bad accent leagues. Rachel McAdams’ performance as immigration lawyer (and all round do-gooder) Annabel Richter is also very weak. Again, her character is a terrible cliché. Daddy was a high court judge so in order to annoy him she takes poorly-paid, thankless immigration lawsuits. McAdams is concentrating so hard on delivering the accent that the rest of her performance suffers. Her speech is flat and, at times, it sounds like she doesn’t even grasp her own lines. Moreover, her character’s behaviour is entirely inexplicable. Surely, not even such a free-spirited, big-hearted person would willingly invite a potentially dangerous terrorist to play house? There is a lazy hint at a potential romance between Annabel and her client, Issa, but – like Bachmann’s colour coded map of suspects – it never goes anywhere.
Ironically, one of the few actual Germans in the film barely gets to speak. Daniel Brühl – an actor I have adored and followed since The White Sound and No Regrets – is nothing more than a glorified extra. It literally could have been anyone sitting behind his desk. More often than not, we are treated to a view of the back of his head as he clicks away on a laptop. Very occasionally, he points at a screen, nods furiously in agreement or throws his headphones off in disgust. It’s such a waste of genuine talent, especially in a film so dry.
Robin Wright also pops up as American intelligence agent Martha Sullivan. She whispers her way through a charmless performance – there is no evidence Claire Underwood ever existed in this limp, uninspiring turn. She and Hoffman play a rather lacklustre game of “are they / aren’t they” on the same side. Will the mighty USA allow these plucky German underdogs to see their investigation through to the end without stomping in and allowing brute force to ruin everything? You probably won’t even care in the end.
The other strand to the plot – if you are still awake or haven’t guessed the ending by this point – is also curiously devoid of any of the tension it needs. Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi) is a seemingly respectable anti-terror Muslim preacher. He may or may not (there is a lot of that in this film) be using Syrian charities to supply weapons to terrorists. Bachmann and his team employ well-pressed financier, Tommy Brue (Willem Defoe) to lure this pro-peace preacher into a sting. Defoe – despite being heavily caked in ridiculously orange make up – gives one of the more interesting performance within the film. It is neatly nuanced, and he is credible as the precise, steely eyed businessman who finds himself plunged into the murky world of terror prevention. He is greedy and keen yet scared and weak. Although, he suffers the same fate as his co-actors as his character is crudely underdeveloped.
The end of A Most Wanted Man, whilst entirely predictable, fails to tie up any loose ends or so much as hint as to the fate of the vast majority of the characters. It is an incredibly frustrating viewing experience. You know what’s coming but, at the same time, hardly any questions are answered. The film is needlessly clunky, staid and unoriginal. It seems weirdly dated and fails to draw a tangible performance from an unusually unimpressive cast. It lacks the tension and credibility usually found in a Le Carré novel. There are a plethora of films dealing with similar subject matter and doing a much better job. This is a such a wasted opportunity.
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