As the Festival approaches the midway point the sun keeps shining on Park City marking the second year in a row Sundance has been blessed by downright balmy conditions which in turn favor a relaxed mood (aside from the odd jostling match on overcrowded shuttles). The fare so far has been customarily eclectic, ranging from fringe to ready-for- multiplex crowd pleasers.
And then there are pictures that straddle categories; independent productions, sometimes with foreign financing, and international casts of bankable stars. That is the case with A Most Wanted Man Dutch director Anton Corbijn’s accomplished adaptation of John Le Carre’s anti-terror spy thriller of the same name. Corbijn has a background in music videos and a prestigious feature resume that includes Control (on (Joy Division’s troubled leader Ian Curtis) and the George Clooney thriller The American.
Here he works with source material from the best in the field and it pays off. The stage is set in Hamburg, the moody German port city that instantly evokes the location of Wim Wenders’ seminal The American Friend. A shady Chechen refugee emerges literally from the harbor to blend into the city’s large Muslim community and immediately catches the eye of an off-the books German intelligence unit led by veteran anti terror operative Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman playing with a spot-on Teutonic accent). The operatives whose mission is to nip possible terror conspiracies in the bud decide to tail the Chechen and the plot soon thickens with a human rights lawyer (Rachel Mc Adams) seeking to obtain asylum for the refugee, a sleek banker (Willem Dafoe), the hard-line police chief that wants to step in with immediate arrests and Bachmann that seeks to utilize the situation to nab bigger fish – plus the interference of various political players and most notably an American embassy CIA attaché’ (Robin Wright).
In short the customary density of a Le Carre’ yarn that will thoroughly satisfy any true fan of the genre. The pace here is deliberate and atmospheric, comparable, say, to Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy (another Le Carre’ classic) – the kind of film that spends the right amount of time on the development of rounded characters and during which we wouldn’t advise glancing at your watch even briefly - lest you miss a crucial plot point.
Le Carre’ made his reputation with cold-war era spy classics, staking out his terrain as a kind of a poet laureate of pessimism. After the fall of the Berlin Wall it appeared he might have lost some of the artistic impulse that came from that specific context, works like The Tailor of Panama and Constant Gardener plumbed the nefarious depths of a changing geopolitical landscape but did not always have the unifying feel of paranoid dread as his earlier novels. With the emergence of the war on terror he has once again to have found fertile new ground for his meditations of covert operations as a metaphor for a bleak human condition. Since The Spy who Came in From the Cold he has chronicled the spiritual destruction wrought by constant betrayal – the double and triple-crosses perpetrated in a world of terminal moral relativism, where idealism inevitably and hopelessly dissolves into pervasive cynicism. A Most Wanted Man completely lives in this world and brings it alive through the perfect interpretations, most notably of Philip Seymour Hoffman in top form.