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A Most Wanted Man

Film Five Stars
John le Carré wrote the novel which is the basis of this film. You should remember that the last Carré novel that was adapted for film was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and that turned out to be a damned fine thriller. Could this film live up to that? Andrew Bovell, who wrote the screenplay for the American version of Edge of Darkness, also wrote an early draft of Strictly Ballroom, no offence to Bovell, but it would take a lot to follow in the footsteps of Tomas Alfredson's script and those two titles aren't really nailing it for me. More importantly Anton Corbijn directed the film, and his past credits include Control and The American, now that does raise expectations.

In front of the camera there are some other great names. Philip Seymour Hoffman takes the leading role in one of his final performances before his death, there's also Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Daniel Brühl and Willem Dafoe to fill out a fantastic sounding cast.

Plot.pngAMostWantedMan.jpgA Chechen-Russian man arrives in Hamburg illegally, sneaking across the borders he seeks refuge in the Islamic community and makes contact with a humanitarian lawyer and then a high level banker. His goal is unclear, but the intelligence community are nervous and soon both the German and American intelligence are scrutinising him, especially when it transpires that the bank hold a very large account in his father's name. Could this man be an extremist and the money intended to fund terrorist acts, or is he a victim of oppression, seeking asylum?

TheFilm.pngThe film does carry a very similar style and pace to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Filmstalker review), and in my eyes that's a very good thing. The film takes it's time, stays with characters and focuses on them, their stories and their relationships, ensuring that they are built believably and realistically so that the audience can connect with them as people.

It works well, while we might not be able to identify with international spies and crooks, they feel like real people in unusual, but still understandable roles. People with flaws, desires and problems that they can't keep control of.

The scripting from Andrew Bovell turns out to be just as strong as Tomas Alfredson's for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and I found that surprising considering my pre-judgement based on his previous films. I was very surprised that it turned out to be so restrained and the characters so carefully developed, and so for that Mr Bovell, I apologise most profusely.

It's not all down to Bovell though, there is a lot of credit to be given to the actors and actresses themselves - yes I'm old fashioned and don't like referring to actresses as actors - who deliver understated performances to match the styling of the writer and scriptwriters.

It's not all praise though, and you might find the following a bit of a surprise, as it's about time I address the commonly mentioned aspect of the film, the fact that this is one of Philip Seymour Hoffman's last performances. Why might you find this a surprise? Well it's because this isn't one of his best performances, in fact it's some way down the list.

Frankly I found him rather disappointing and his performance lacklustre, and while some of that might be down to the character he was playing, it felt he didn't give that much to the character or the screen. He drank, smoked, mumbled and wandered through his story.

While he wasn't bad, he wasn't the best in the film. I felt that accolade went to the leading ladies of the film, Rachel McAdams and Robin Wright. Both were convincing, natural and strong. McAdams was great throughout and I particularly loved some of the interplays between Wright and Hoffman's characters, and there are some great lines of dialogue to be heard in these moments. Another nod to the script.

All in all this is a film with strong characters, actors and actresses, and performances throughout, even if Hoffman isn't up to par those around him are. With that strong story comes a strong central character, and you are never really sure of either, and that uncertainty helps build a huge underlying tension for the film. The mystery surrounding the central character plays to prejudice and typical expectations, and the story holds off delivering anything concrete for almost the entirety of the film.

The plot plays on that uncertainty too, right to the end, with a strong finale that represents the only action in the entire film, something you will find surprising when you reflect back. That isn't meant as any detriment to the film at all, it actually shows how powerful the film is in order to keep the audience so engaged. The same can be said of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Both these films are spy thrillers and yet feature no big action sequences, no grandious effects, they are kept real and all about the characters and the story.

What is perhaps the biggest surprise of the film is that the most tension and excitement is not delivered by this action sequence, this scene is actually the release of all the tension that has been built by the previous scene. Surprisingly, and as a show of the power of the scripting, performances and superbly paced direction and editing, the tension is delivered by the scene of a man signing some papers.

Much of the film will remind you of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and moments such as these are great examples of the similarities, but it stands separately and strongly, the similarities are in style and pacing alone.

Overall.pngA Most Wanted Man is an excellent thriller with a powerful script, delivered with great performances from some equally great actors, and played out with superb pacing and direction. While the performance from Hoffman isn't everything it may be sold to be, there's more than enough to make up for it from the actors and actresses around him, particularly Robin Wright and the excellent Rachel McAdams.

The story starts off slowly, builds the characters and relationships carefully, and develops the threads well, bringing them together slowly and surely and raising the tension step by step. It's a thoughtful thriller with only one action sequence, and the most tension and excitement comes before this, through a pen and paper.

A Most Wanted Man is recommended viewing, staying true to le Carré and what we've seen from the recent film adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Filmstalker review). If you like well-crafted thrillers which build on characters, relationships, you'll love this film.

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