Friday, September 26, 2014

"A Most Wanted Man" (film)

Philip Seymour Hoffman waiting to turn someone

From The Telegraph.

"Philip Seymour Hoffman isn’t playing the title character in A Most Wanted Man, but there’s absolutely no doubt who we most want to see,..

"Like so many other Hoffman characters, his Günther Bachmann is a stifled, almost ruinously intelligent and lonely being. He hulks, he shuffles, he measures his words – delivered in a clipped, curious Teutonic accent you believe belongs to one man alone – with a waiting-game precision. Even by the actor’s remarkable standards, Hoffman’s wheezing authority is lavishly mesmerising in this: it’s legitimately one of his three or four greatest performances, and as you start to deduce how great it is, you feel his loss keenly and afresh.

"Lived-in fatigue was the baseline for almost all Hoffman’s best work, and you won’t find many jobs more fatigue-inducing than that of Bachmann, a German spymaster involved in the constant finessing of anti-terror operations without causing any diplomatic meltdowns. As the film starts, he’s licking his wounds in Hamburg, after a mission in Beirut went disastrously wrong – “My network was blown,” he explains to an American attaché called Martha (Robin Wright), but a veil is drawn over the deaths entailed.

"The film is based on John le Carré’s 2008 thriller of the same name, but its personnel have been somewhat reshuffled. You wouldn't necessarily have picked out Bachmann as the prime mover in that story, but Anton Corbijn and his screenwriter, Andrew Bovell, have re-orbited it around him. It becomes a complicated chess game in which Bachmann is the white king, moving stealthily, square by square, while other characters get flashier sallies or long-range bits of business. He’s not always well-guarded, and come the tight and tense end-game, he’s having to watch his back.


"The terrific young Russian actor Grigoriy Dobrygin (How I Ended This Summer) plays Issa Karpov, a Chechen refugee who has entered Hamburg illegally, and is suspected by the Russian authorities of being a dangerous terrorist.

"Bachmann and his team decide they can use him, in a sting operation of which he’ll be entirely unaware, if they can first gain the trust of his immigration lawyer (Rachel McAdams). A fortune is Issa’s by rights, tied up in the inheritance his father entrusted to an international private bank, under the beaky stewardship of Willem Dafoe. But it’s what he does with these funds next that the spooks are gambling on.

"Compared with the spider-web sprawl of machinations in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the story here is contained, pointed and topically very specific: it’s about degrees of allegiance to a notorious cause, and whether having half a foot in the enemy’s camp is grounds to have the whole leg amputated. Le Carré’s novel obliquely criticised the American government’s policy of extraordinary rendition, advancing the softly-softly efforts of these German operatives as simultaneously more humane and more strategically canny. It’s Bachmann who has to explain the pointlessness of biting off one small hydra-head, rather than exploiting the compromised ideologies of Islamist sympathisers to dig right into the extremist mother lode."
And it ends with a bang.

Good film. Over our fish 'n' chips in the local Wetherspoon we debated strategies: operational utility vs. moral compromise in a world where absolutely no-one's hands are clean.