“Every good man has a little bit of bad…”
A Most Wanted Man has that same icy cold vibe found in other modern films concerning things like espionage, spies & other random covert affairs (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Lives Of Others, The Debt, The 5th Estate, etc). Basically, imagine one of the Bourne movies but without the car chases, snipers & hard to follow hand-to-hand combat scenes. Anton Corbijn is no novice to any of this. His last film, The American, dealt with similar themes and ideas but certainly wasn’t as serious as A Most Wanted Man. Of all the films Corbijn has done so far, A Most Wanted Man has the most substance. While The American certainly dealt with the loneliness, paranoia & depression that can come along with the lifestyle of being a hit-man, it was still based in fantasy as it contained things like cool camera angles, sultry women shooting guns & unspoken sexual tension. Anton Corbijn’s latest film is rooted in something a lot more serious – terrorism and post 9/11 Europe.
A Most Wanted Man is the story of a secret anti-terrorist organization, fronted by “Günter Bachmann” (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and their attempts to make the world a “safer place”. Their particular mission/assignment in this film is to infiltrate the high ranks of a terrorist organization by strategically using “pawns” in the form of a social worker lawyer (Rachel McAdams), a commercial banker (Willem Dafoe) and the son of an important Muslim representative (Jamal Abdullah).
This film deals with issues like the world’s ignorance & paranoia towards an entire religion (Islam) after the 9/11 attacks; the questionable lengths some go to in order to gain information; the relationship some governments have with terrorists; and whether or not we should treat captured terrorists as assets or prisoners.
A Most Wanted Man is an enjoyable film overall but it’s not without a few faults. I felt there were a few scenes that were pointless (there’s a random scene where Hoffman defends a woman in a bar). And this may come off as nitpicky, but the German accents by some of the American actors were a little ambiguous at times. At the Q&A that followed the screening I attended, Anton Corbijn stated how he originally intended to make A Most Wanted Man an all German-casted film but he couldn’t get financing due to no “big names” being attached to the project, hence the casting of more recognizable names like McAdams, Dafoe, Robin Wright & the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. I guess I’m a little conflicted with that given this is a pretty personal film for Germans (for those that still don’t know, the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated in Hamburg, which came as a serious blow to German security & intelligence). Plus there aren’t many prominent films that show the after affects of 9/11 outside of the U.S. and/or the Middle East. But the movie wasn’t going to get made with an all German cast, so what was Anton Corbijn to do? He did end up getting actors like Hoffman & Dafoe so his problems could have been way worse. And besides, the film does capture that European vibe and kind of shows the understated multicultural side of Germany (Fatih Akin might be the last known/important filmmaker to show the non-Caucasian side of Germany).
Hoffman delivered a nice toned-down performance for the majority of the film and lets it all out in the end (whether you can see the final moments of A Most Wanted Man unfolding from a mile away, it’s still executed nicely) . This certainly wasn’t the performance of his career, but it’s definitely something that’s good to go out on (personally, I wish A Most Wanted Man would get released after The Hunger Games sequel but oh well…). Dafoe also gives a good supporting performance as does the rest of the supporting cast.
Anton Corbijn is part of the most recent wave of music video directors-turned-feature length filmmakers along with Mark Romanek (Never Let Me Go) & Jonathan Glazer (Under The Skin & Birth) to make waves/gain notoriety in the movie world (you could almost group Romanek in with Michel Gondry & Spike Jonze but I put the latter two in a previous generation). A problem that many of these artists face is falling victim to style of substance. Some of you, especially those that are a part of generation X & generation Y, may have a problem admitting this because we came up loving the music video work of the aforementioned filmmakers (they did provide a visual soundtrack to some of the most important years of our lives). It’s tough to admit when artists we love don’t deliver. But lets’ be honest – how many times have you or someone you know confused a Spike Jonze movie with a Michel Gondry movie because of their similar quirky styles. Or how about mixing up the work of Jonathan Glazer with Mark Romanek because they both have that same darkish David Fincher-esque vibe in their movies? Like I said earlier – A Most Wanted Man is enjoyable overall, but the real accomplishment here is that this is the first film directed by Corbijn that didn’t feel like a really long music video. That’s not to say his previous films are “bad” (I actually happen to like The American very much and there’s some cool things in Control too) but overall, his work prior to A Most Wanted Man was clearly about style more than anything else. Making the transition from 3-5 minute long music videos (which are essentially stylish shorts with a little bit of narrative) after almost two decades to feature length movies can be tough. I think Corbijn has finally found his footing with A Most Wanted Man. He seemed to borrow more from his last film (The American) than his debut (Control) which I think was a smart move. As a director he’s only getting better with each film and I look forward to his next project.