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Cinema Signal: Great acting, intense intrigue and a master of manipulation makes this a GO! MOBILE version |
. "A Most Wanted Man"

The level of engagement I experienced watching this movie, with its understated central character, was in direct contradiction to my inability to read the novels of its source writer, John LeCarre'. And yet, as its overextended, minutely detailed, agonizing pace of strategies and situations are discussed and analyzed and torn apart, I recognized the LeCarre' density that gives me so much trouble as a reader.

Ah, but LeCarre' doesn't have Philip Seymour Hopkins as his protagonist, nor the breathtakingly beautiful Rachel McAdams to adorn his pages in the spycraft involved. He also wouldn't have the adapting dramatists -- director Anton Corbijn and screenwriter Andrew Bovell at his disposal -- to put the spin of tension and suspense on the far less focused (I'm guessing) original.

Hoffman understood the man that LeCarre' envisioned, and so correctly gives us a remarkable Gunther Bachmann, a man whose mind seems to wander until he opens his mouth and says what needs to be said to move his people to take the actions for the attainment of his provocative plan against more powerful agencies than his.

He maintains a hold on collaborator or competitor alike. He's the man with the foresight; the ability to manipulate the people involved like pieces on a board. His goal, perhaps, is to make up for his last case, which was a disaster..

All of which is put to use when Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a survivor of scarring torture, arrives in Hamburg from Chechnya along smuggling routes. The reason has a subtle complexity, quite in the LeCarre' mold. The immigrant's father has died and he's come to claim an inheritance: a vast sum of money in a private bank run by another opportunistic player in this game, Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe).

The illegal heir is deeply constrained by his unfamiliar surroundings and suspicious strangers, at the mercy of those whom he meets. But he puts his trust in immigration lawyer Annabel Richter (McAdams) as his much-needed avenue to unexpected wealth. But her allegiences are, shall we say, adaptive.

To the German and US security agency authorities, the Chechen is a likely terrorist -- the wanted man of the title. But Bachmann wants control of the man and his new wealth. It calls for close timing and finesse, political and psychological. But that's what this lonely, devilish man was made to do and how he goes about it is what solidifies our fascination in him and the intrigue of his furtive imagination.

Corbijn's cast is well thought out and, thanks to more than McAdams, quite glamourous. Which is in no part meant to indicate a compromise. Bachmann's faithful collaborator Irna Frey is quite fetching and handsomely played by notable German actress Nina Hoss. Robin Wright as CIA officer Martha Sullivan adds a note of conspiratorial dimension to the powers at work in Berlin.

Daniel Bruhl, so well-known for his "Good Bye Lenin!" of 2003 is hyped up -- excitedly dedicated to Bachmann's every tactical requirement in a minor supportive role. Russian Dobrygin is entirely credible as a laconic refugee who is subject to the allure of a woman -- but a man, too, whose purposes are entirely personal and unknown.

Hopkins' Bachmann is a gem: quietly persevering, and so accomplished at it that I got the sense the characterization was patterned on an actual person whom he studied. In any case, it's my new favorite of his best work. Forget his Lancaster Dodd in "The Master." (Overdone in my view). Forget, even, his Plutarch Heavensbee of the "Hunger Games," though that's up there with his best. This is Hoffmann's gold standard of role creation and, if prior portrayals didn't do it, it makes him, in my mind, equal to the truly original actors of his time. It's a loss of the greatest magnitude that his time, and his films, have ended.

With casting like this, I'd rather see the movie than read the book. At least in the case of one spy novelist, important though he may be.

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                                                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Seymour Philip Hoffman as spymaster Gunter Bachmann;
Rachel McAdams as immigration lawyer Annabel Richter:
Working out their interests and positions in the shadowy game.

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