A Most Wanted Man (2014)

(On Cable TV, May 2015)  Films adapted from John Le Carré’s espionage thrillers are a breed by themselves.  They are not meant to be conventionally exciting, feature spectacular action sequences or make anyone feel better about the state of the world.  They are meant to be (relatively) realistic interrogations about the nature of intelligence work in a world where nothing is either black or white.  So it is with A Most Wanted Man, a contemporary intelligence thriller where murkiness abounds, protagonists don’t play fair (because they know everyone else doesn’t) and victory can be extinguished in a moment.  It’s set in Hamburg, among potential fundamentalists, competing intelligence services and a flawed protagonist who’s trying to do his best despite the ambiguity of his circumstances.  Philip Seymour Hoffman is terrific as a wheezing spymaster who think he’s seen everything: his world-weariness is only equalled by his ability to manipulate people and get them to do what he wants.  Not much actually happens in A Most Wanted Man, at least by the standards of other espionage thrillers.  But it does culminate in an unusual final sequence in which a signature is a victory, and where anything can happen at the most inopportune time.  It’s not exactly fun viewing, but it does fit nicely alongside other Le Carré adaptation like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Constant Gardner as meditative thrillers with just enough real-world ugliness to be refreshing.  Don’t see it if you want an upbeat experience, but do try to see it.

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