‘A Most Wanted Man’ debuts at Sundance

Director Anton Corbijn attends the premiere of the film. Credit: Reuters
Director Anton Corbijn attends the premiere of the film.
Credit: Reuters 

Director Anton Corbijn explores the real-life fears and paranoia in the post-9/11 world in the intense new espionage thriller “A Most Wanted Man.”

The film, based on John le Carre’s best-selling thriller novel of the same name, is a tale of spies and terrorism, set in Hamburg, Germany, a city that has been on high alert after the 9/11 hijackers planned their attack on America from there.

Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman plays German spy Gunther Bachmann, a man driven by the shame of previous failure into an obsessive pursuit of capturing terrorists by any means necessary.

Hoffman, 46, told Reuters at the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival that he connected to a lot of Gunther’s personality, and believed the character would resonate with most people.

“I think it’d be hard for anyone not to connect with the loneliness. He’s pretty lonely, driven, obsessive guy, unforgiving of himself in a lot of ways. A lot of traits that a lot of people carry in one grade or another,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman, who won a best actor Oscar in 2006 for “Capote,” said he wanted to do justice to the character that le Carre had created, and “illuminate it in a way that hopefully is surprising.”

The film follows the mysterious arrival in Hamburg of a destitute Chechen-Russian immigrant named Issa (played by Grigoriy Dobrygin), who lays claim to a large fortune in a bank account with the help of an attractive human rights lawyer, played by Rachel McAdams. Issa, a deeply religious Muslim man, wants to donate the money to charities supporting the Islamic faith.

Gunther and his team, who are investigating a company they suspect has ties to terrorist groups, are alerted to Issa’s arrival and donation plans, and embark on a cat-and-mouse chase to gain evidence of terrorist connections.

After the screening, Dutch director Corbijn told the audience he was drawn to the contemporary nature of le Carre’s story that delved into the fears raised by the war on terror.

“I wanted to make something that was relevant to our lives after 9/11, and the way the world changed so quickly and judged people so quickly, so black and white,” Corbijn said.

Challenging audiences

Early reviews of “A Most Wanted Man” from Sundance, the top U.S. independent film festival, have been positive, with Variety chief film critic Justin Chang calling it “meticulously plotted, steadily absorbing.”

Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter said the film’s “muted and subdued” plot may harm its commercial appeal in theaters, but would attract intelligent viewers “who don’t need everything spelled out to them.”

For McAdams, the role of German lawyer Annabel was a rare dramatic turn after a catalog of romantic and comedic films such as “The Notebook” and “Mean Girls.”

Playing the character was “an opportunity to challenge myself, stretch myself, with complicated people and issues,” the actress told the audience. “I like that I still have questions. I’ve seen the movie and I was a part of it and I still wonder how I feel about it all and I think that’s very powerful and moving.”

The film was shot against dramatic architecture and spaces in Hamburg, a city Corbijn said he was drawn to for the aesthetic of the film.

“My background is photography so I don’t use studios, I work outdoors, and I always use walls, walls are my favorite,” he said. “I look at architecture and Hamburg is a really interesting city … a lot of contrast. We erred on the more lower class areas, they always have a little more texture.”


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