Release Date: 12th September 2014
Running Time: 122 minutes
Director: Anton Corbijn
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Daniel Brühl, Homayoun Ershadi, Mehdi Dehbi, Neil Malik Abdullah
In 2010 Anton Corbijn released The American, a hitman man movie with a twist. Rather than being about big guns and stylish kills, it featured a near-mute George Clooney and was an existential piece that focused on functionality and purpose. The film frustrated more than it thrilled, but it was nice to have a different spin on a well worn theme. Four years later, Corbijn’s latest offering, A Most Wanted Man attempts a similar trick, but with far more satisfying results.
Philip Seymour Hoffman heads up a Hamburg based anti-terror team as they track suspected terrorist Issa Karpov (Grigory Dobrygin). A familiar premise for sure. However rather than a standard by-the-numbers thriller, Corbijn offers an examination of how the world has changed since the war on terror began. Refreshingly, it’s not all explosions and gun battles; it’s more concerned about the terrifying stuff that goes on in the shadows. The dark forces that mean us harm. The dirty tactics we deploy to stop them. The feeling that if something catastrophic were to happen, it might be down to bureaucratic red-tape rather than the ingenuity of the enemy.
If this had been made 15 years ago it would have starred Tom Cruise and it would have finished with a race-against-time chase to defuse a bomb in downtown Hamburg. Instead we get Hoffman, as electrifying as ever, lumbering around dive bars and shadowy car parks making dodgy deals. Perpetually hunched over from the weight of past failures and current responsibilities, he opts for a far less showy tactic than his counterparts of the 1990’s. He is a man who very much sees the big picture, willing to catch and release a number of criminal minnows in his efforts to land the extremist big fish.
This time Corbijn’s gamble has paid off. He does a terrific job of constructing Hoffman’s investigations as a house of cards, making sure all the pieces are arranged perfectly in order to reach the goal. It is the fragility of this case that makes it so gripping. It’s greatest accomplishment is the way it draws it’s tension from little more than a few strokes of a pen, making it one of the most understated nail-biters in a long time. This time the gamble has paid off. If only more filmmakers were willing to take such risks.