John le Carré’s novels, and subsequently their film adaptations, are often highly distinguishable from other espionage thrillers, with the films certainly being stark contrasts to their more action-orientated contemporaries. Thankfully, Anton Corbijn’s sophomore effort is no different.
The director’s past as a photographer is evident throughout, and works to emphasise the tension that forms the basis for most of le Carré’s work. His clever and enthralling implementation of close-range still shots successfully acts to draw the audience further into the game of cat-and-mouse unfolding before their eyes.
Following German intelligence agent, Gunther Bachmann (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) as he searches for a suspected terrorist, recently arrived in Hamburg and looking to claim asylum in the country, Corbijn’s film adaptation quickly establishes itself with a darker tone and greater complexity than the typical Bond-esque adventure, which is perfect for the world envisioned by le Carré. The deliberate slow pacing only further builds on this. At the same time though, this may alienate audiences looking for a flashy, high-octane flick – they would certainly be left disappointed in that respect.
The slow pacing of the film can grow tiresome on occasion, yet it is by no means the film’s greatest weakness. The repeated use of certain tropes feels all too familiar, and there are only so many conversations that awkwardly conspicuous spies can eavesdrop on before everything becomes a bit too convenient. Indeed, the entire situation feels very familiar, especially in regards to other films based on le Carré novels, in particular 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which in many ways did everything A Most Wanted Man does, only better and with a greater degree of charm.
Despite its slight repetitiveness, A Most Wanted Man does have one constantly fresh aspect to it in the form of its central actor, the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who delivers an expectedly fantastic performance as the haggard head of a secret anti-terror unit. In many ways it is his performance that holds the film together as it plods through an atypical espionage plot but still manages to entice and fascinate the audience.