A Most Wanted Man

A Most Wanted Man

Following the capture and death of Bin Laden, there’s been a marked movement towards filming and filtering the War on Terror through the poses and palette of Cold War classicism. As 9-11 disperses and disseminates into a kind of historical substrate, a presence that haunts the present, directors have tended to reach back to what often feels like the last time we were able to glimpse the world system, however fleetingly or imperfectly. Among other things, that’s resulted in a renewed taste for the tones and textures of John Le Carre, but A Most Wanted Man is unique in that it's based on one of Le Carre’s own moments of self-pastiche, a 2008 novel that elegiacally applies his high Cold War style to the vagaries and ambiguities of the present. Like the novel, the film is set in Hamburg and haunted by the Hamburg Cell, the terrorist group that gathered there to plan and co-ordinate the 9/11 attacks, unbeknownst to the local intelligence community. That’s a perfect venue to stage the lingering afterlife of 9/11, since, unlike New York, Hamburg has had very little ceremonial infrastructure put in place to deal with the trauma of that terrible day. If anything, it’s still caught in the shadow of the Twin Towers, at least in Anton Corbijn’s version, which plays as a series of still photographs, a succession of edifices in which every face and building feels like a memorial in the making, or a memorial that never quite came to fruition. Against that backdrop, the actual espionage narrative is as distended and as monotonous as can be, to the point where it operates more by rote, or reflex, than with any real effort to engage. Ostensibly centred on the relationship between a German agent (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an American agent (Robin Wright) and their shared interest in a Chechen agent (Grigoriy Dobrygin), it’s really more about their efforts to come to terms with a cityscape that will never, ever forgive them, never take them back into its bosom, as they unskein out into the first few moments of a long twenty-first century. That might sound dreary, but it’s the perfect backdrop for Corbijn’s photographic poise, his peculiar capacity to capture artists at the very end of their careers, or at the very end of a particular stage of their careers. And while that worked wonders with Ian Curtis, it’s even more profound and poignant with Hoffman, who’s fixed in one of his final roles before it even seems to have ended, emerging out of Corbijn’s murky, bleary wet baths like an accidental spectre, preserved for all posterity in someone else’s photograph.

www.afilmcanon.com/films/2014/8/13/corbijn-a-most-wanted-man-2014.html