September 12 — September 18
A Most Wanted Man
|Sat & Sun||2:00||5:00||7:30|
Unless otherwise noted, films begin on Friday and run through the next Thursday.
Author John Le Carré is often credited with reclaiming espionage from the hyperbolically glamorous world of Ian Fleming’s iconic master spy, James Bond. Fleming’s oeuvre was filled with sex, two-fisted action, machismo, gadgetry, apocalyptic storylines and world-saving daring-do, but the books (and movies) definitely lacked realism. They seemed especially cartoonish (and increasingly irrelevant in a post-9/11 world) compared to Le Carré’s more somber, complex, philosophical, and morally ambivalent novels. A recent big-screen adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, showed there was a cinema audience willing to trade hand-to-hand combat and car chases for a realistic “insider’s look” at modern spycraft. Now director Anton Corbijn has adopted Le Carré for an equally engrossing, intelligent portrayal of secret agents and the cloudy moral waters they wade through in the name of “national security.” Starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final roles, A Most Wanted Man shows the machinations of international espionage in all their formidable complexity. Next to the vast machine headed by spymaster Günther Bachmann (Hoffman), the “most wanted man” of the title doesn’t seem to stand a chance. Or does he? That man is Issa Karpov (Grigory Dobrygin), a Chechen/Russian who sneaks into Hamburg on a cargo ship—to commit an act of terrorism? As it turns out, no. Though a radical Muslim, former resistance fighter, ex-prisoner, and victim of torture, Karpov seems to want to start a new life, forgetting his troubling past (Karpov’s the child of a rape of a Chechen woman by a despotic Russian general). Karpov’s motivations are centered on an illicit fortune stashed in a German bank account—what he intends to do, it’s Bachmann’s job to find out. Whether or not Bachmann’s surveillance of Karpov will actually result in greater security is another question. The resulting cat-and-mouse game, where Bachmann and his team of agents leverage various associates of Karpov’s into pawns for their own use, is as compelling and suspenseful as anything in a James Bond or Jason Bourne film—but has the added value of making viewers contemplate the larger ethical questions involved in espionage work. To Bachmann, spycraft is a simple matter of hierarchies of evil: “[Use] a minnow to catch a barracuda, and a barracuda to catch a shark.” But those minnows, barracudas, and sharks also include innocent people who just happen to get caught up in the net. Corbijn’s film captures the mixture of bureaucratic detachment and occasionally spine-tingling thrills when a mystery seems to be about to be unlocked or a missing puzzle piece found: it’s a tone that’s unique to Le Carré’s meticulous crafted fiction and based on the author’s own background with British intelligence. A Most Wanted Man shows us real espionage: the legwork, the planning, the miscalculations, the crises of conscience. Authenticity permeates every featureless office, every starkly-lit interrogation room, every squalid pub, every cramped surveillance van—creating a sense of claustrophobia, not only as the net descends on Karpov, but as the “good guys” begin to feel the pressure of guilt and uncertainty about what they’re doing. The acting is superb. Most of the characters are German but played by Americans—but the accents are subtle and restrained, so viewers can concentrate on the emotional intensity of every scene. Hoffman is marvelous: sardonic, chain-smoking, belligerent, flippant, seemingly unscrupulous. But there are some quiet moments, when Bachmann isn’t ruthlessly pushing his operatives, that reveal his contradictory nature—like a scene where Bachmann, alone in his tacky bachelor’s apartment, plays a few amateurish notes on a piano for his own amusement. In moments like these, moviegoers sense a lifetime of disappointments and dreams deferred in a character who could’ve been a one-note bully. These are the kinds of moments that Hoffman excelled in, and he’s supported by an excellent ensemble, including Robin Wright as a CIA agent, Willem Dafoe as a German banker, Rachel McAdams as a sympathetic lawyer who wants to help Karpov seek asylum, and Nina Hoss and Daniel Brühl as two of Bachmann’s trusted operatives—who may not be as trustworthy as they seem. Everyone brings a sense of world-weariness, cynicism, and guarded self-interest that’s appropriate to our post-9/11 taste in spy thrillers. Hoffman embodies Le Carré’s unromantic conception of spies as overworked, underappreciated, paranoid cogs in a bureaucratic machine, always aware that they can be betrayed at any moment, by anyone. Hoffman carries the weight of that knowledge on his massive shoulders, in a deeply inward but genuinely moving performance, made all the more sad by our knowledge that this great actor is no longer with us to bring dignity, wry humor, intelligence, and dramatic gravitas to the kinds of movie protagonists we need more of: ordinary, semi-pathetic, semi-heroic schlubs just trying to do the best they can—“heroes” like Günther Bachmann.
Cinema NewsManhattan Short Presents Film of the Week. Each week the Festival Screens a Past Finalists Award Winning Film Online. Click here to watch the film short of the Week.
Monthly Cinema FlyerDownload Current Flyer as a PDF
Seniors/Students with valid ID: $7
*Please show SAC membership card to receive discount. R or MA rating requires purchase of ticket by parent or guardian of person under 17.