feedingbrett’s review published on Letterboxd:
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Silent Objectivity And Active Immersion: Ranking Anton Corbijn
Review In A Nutshell:
A Most Wanted Man, Anton Corbijn's follow up to the surprisingly engaging sophomore film, The American. The film is based off a novel, authored by John le Carre, the same man responsible for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; which the film adaptation by Tomas Alfredson in 2011 left me with positive results. The two names come together for an espionage thriller that features notable and reliable stars, one could easily assume they are in safe hands.
A Most Wanted Man follows Gunther Bachmann, a leading espionage agent, attempts to find information of a newly arrived refugee, Isaa Karpov, from Chechnya, observing whether or not he is affiliated with terrorists groups. An immigration lawyer, Annabel Richter, was contacted to aid Isaa in handling his father's bank account. Isaa considers the money in that account to be tainted and evil, and wanting to disassociate him from it; but pressures from national government make it difficult for him to attend to these matters independently. Bachmann schemes a plan to have Isaa's finances to be donated to Dr. Abdullah, who is connected with al-Qaeda in funding their organisation, and allow enough evidence to be found in order to take him down.
A Most Wanted Man is a difficult film for me to sink my teeth into, as its storytelling seems to be more concerned with the larger ideas it is trying to suggest, while the characters themselves are minimally shaped to drive its plot forward. This wouldn't have been too much of an issue if the story itself was accessible and dramatic enough to lose myself in, but that is far from Corbijn's style; like The American and his debut film Control, dramatization are rarely found, letting the content be judged face-value, which no doubt could leave many distant if one already has distaste for the material. Due to Corbijn's execution, the film is not as insightful to its characters as I wanted them to be; if the story itself is difficult in establishing a connection, compelling and multi-layered characters are useful in keeping the scenes entertaining.
This is not to say that the characters are hollow and devoid of depth, they certainly serve a purpose to its larger themes; especially patriotism, U.S. interference, terrorism, and humanitarianism. The problem is that Corbijn doesn't exploit in these themes enough with its characters, his reluctant to deeply connect with his audience at a sentimental level does make it difficult to find immense appeal for its characters. The only individual that I was able to find myself in deep engagement with was Annabel, a person who is committed to her pacifistic values, driven by her sympathies towards the accused and tortured. The rest of the characters would have deeply benefited if the film exposed their deepest fears and desires, even if it compromises the fitting running time.
The film's third act features a climax that surprised and engaged me; Corbijn ensures that he keeps the film within the rules and tone of its first and second act, maintaining tension through dialogue rather than action. Then it brings forth an anti-climactic event that left me emotionally wrecked for some of its characters, a moment that amplifies the themes of the assembled scenes that came before it, and hits its audience right in the face. It provides an ending that is no doubt reflection of our corrupt and damaged society, leaving one at an emotional high that would make one want to return back to the start and watch the film all over again.
The performances in this film were strong and effective in their purpose, but its pairing with restrained writing and direction prevents me from being in complete adoration. The only cast member that left me in awe was Rachel McAdams, in a role that is far from her safety zone; providing enough details for the role in order to achieve complexity and value. Philip Seymour Hoffman in the starring role is always wonderful, as he never gets enough of it, but here I could not help but feel it could have been more. I completely understand that my slight frustrations are caused by Corbijn's decisions rather than Hoffman's, and therefore I do not completely condemn the actor for it. The rest of the cast were content in their own way, but like Hoffman, they could have been far more explored.
A Most Wanted Man shows Corbijn handling a much larger material, one that covers multiple characters and a plot that features a large stake. It achieves in areas of building tension and compelling political ideas, but fails in shaping deeply explored characters and enough drama to fuel its scenes. I still have faith in Corbijn and A Most Wanted Man is certainly a gateway for his career to undertake ambitious materials with a talented crew and cast; I don't doubt that his masterpiece is just around the corner.