The Art of Surveillance

A Most Wanted Man

A most_wanted_man

 Director: Anton Corbijn

Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, Daniel Bruhl, Nina Hoss, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Rainer Bock

Dutch director of The American, Anton Corbijn skilfully brings to cinematic life the spymaster John le Carre’s novel A Most Wanted Man set in the German port city of Hamburg, the site in which the 9/11 terror attacks emanated from.

Oscar winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) in one of his last onscreen performances before his untimely death in New York in 2014, plays German intelligence officer Gunther, an overweight heavy drinking, chain smoking yet patience man who engineers a web of intrigue and surveillance when a Chechen Muslim illegal immigrant arrives in Hamburg seeking asylum.

The immigrant is half Chechen and half Russian and his true reasons for arriving in Hamburg is to claim access to a private bank account held by his Russian father who stashed funds after several covert and illegal Russian/Chechen wars.

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The most wanted man, Issa is a Muslim convert, played by Russian actor Grigoriy Dobrygin, who seeks shelter with a Turkish mother and son. They in turn seek advice on his precarious existence with a human rights lawyer and refugee sympathizer Annabelle Richter played against type by Rachel McAdams.

Gunther with the help of his surveillance team including Daniel Bruhl (Rush) as Maximilian and German actress Nina Hoss as Irna Frey who manipulate Annabelle into setting up a play to gain the confidence of Issa whose sudden wealth is being held by a suave German banker Tommy Brue played by Willem Dafoe (Nymphomaniac).

The German surveillance team is interested in where the funds might go, namely to a prominent Muslim businessman Abdullah in Hamburg who is funneling cash to jihadist groups in the Middle East through a shipping company based in Cyprus.

A Most Wanted Man’s opening scene focuses on the murky swirling waters of the river Elbe running through the second largest port in Europe after Rotterdam, a fitting motif for the tricky surveillance and bureaucracy involved in the gathering of intelligence on suspected terrorists post 9/11. This is an intricate geopolitical affair, with allegiances and deception as part of the cold business of espionage in the tradition of Zero Dark Thirty and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Into the play comes the seemingly sympathetic CIA officer, Martha Sullivan played by Robin Wright, last seen in the excellent series House of Cards. As Gunther increasingly manipulates both Issa and Annabelle to his own advantage without wanting a full scale extradition, the tension and strain becomes almost unbearable.

This is a well plotted gritty thriller without the flashy car chases or violent fight sequences synonymous with The Bourne Trilogy. Director Corbijn opts for a more sedated, yet carefully paced spy narrative, slow moving in parts, rather emphasizing the mental and emotional strain on all those involved especially Gunther, with his unraveling coming to a head at the film’s rather poignant unexpected conclusion.

At just over two hours, A Most Wanted Man could have been edited in parts, but is nevertheless a fascinating study of the excruciating art of surveillance. Recommended for cinema goers who enjoy well-plotted intelligent spy thrillers without the glamour or excitement of a Bond film.

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