I’m a John le Carre fan . . . in theory. I’ve never read any of his books, but I’ve liked two of the three movies based on his books I’ve seen (this and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy were the likes, The Constant Gardner was the dislike). But I like spy movies, especially cynical, slowly paced ones.
Based on that criteria, Anton Corbijn is a great choice for director. I liked his previous cynical, slowly placed spy movie The American and found this one to be very similar. A friend once lamented of The American: “Nothing happened.” Not much more happens in this one, but I don’t mind it.
In a way, I think the film’s pacing nicely compliments the worldview of its hero, Gunther Bachmann. His argument, based on a lifetime of frustrations and past failures, is that none of his peers or superiors are willing to put in the time to develop a case to actually get THE bad guy, not just some bad guys. As we watch each one of his moves slowly unfold, as he stays one step ahead of his gung-ho allies, we start to subscribe to that view also. So the sucker punch ending crushes us as much as it does him, especially after it lingers on Bachmann, powerlessly screaming in his car before returning to the office to start picking up the pieces of his latest failure.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman is great as Bachmann, but when isn’t he great? I like him even in terrible movies like Twister. I especially appreciate the fact that he didn’t have and didn’t aspire to movie star looks. It’s a nice throwback to the late 70s – the last time I think this was true – when average looking guys like Gene Hackman or Jack Nicholson were considered as big a draw as Paul Newman and Robert Redford. These days I don’t see Hoffman beating out Ryan Gosling for the remake of The French Connection.
Incidentally, this adaptation was written by Andrew Bovell, who wrote another great script (based on his play) for Lantana. It’s better than A Most Wanted Man, but both share the same weary sadness and unsettling conclusion. It’s worth watching, but it’s not exactly a pick-me-up. It’s also worth watching to hear Anthony LaPaglia speak with his natural Australian accent (no kidding).
Also incidentally, I’m glad I was introduced to Nina Hoss by this film. That made it much easier to convince my wife to try Phoenix (also better than this, and subject of an upcoming post) by telling her “It stars the woman from A Most Wanted Man who wasn’t Rachel McAdams or Robin Wright.”