“It’s just an ordinary pen. Looks like a pen, writes like a pen, and listens like a pen.”
I’m no John Le Carre expert, but I have seen and read enough to know he’s at the top of spy thriller authorship. I’ve seen and loved Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, both the 70s TV version with Alec Guinness and the recent movie version with Gary Oldman. I’ve also read one or two of his novels and loved the lot. He was (and probably still is) the leading writer of Cold War spy fiction. But it tuns out, his career didn’t stop when the Berlin Wall came down. He’s still writing now, and he’s keeping up with the times. A few years ago, he wrote about the fall out in Germany after it was discovered that the 9/11 attacks in New York had been planned there. He wrote a book, that book got turned into a movie. That movie is A Most Wanted Man.
Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) crosses the German border and enters Hamburg illegally. He’s immediately brought to the attention of a German anti-terrorist unit lead by Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Karpov’s friends / family who are hiding him, reach out for help from activist lawyer, Rachel McAdams as Annabel Richter. She works with victims of torture and disenfranchised victims, trying to find a way home. She believes Karpov is one of those victims and agrees to help him access money left by his father in a shady Hamburg bank run by Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe).
When Bachmann figures out the financial connection, Brue is caught between Richter and Bachmann. Which means being caught between what might be right and what might keep him out of trouble. Add to that an American security agency, headed by Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) breathing down Bachmann’s neck, and all of a sudden there are a lot of people, none with clear agendas, all chasing Karpov, his money, or both.
This is a Le Carre story, and its about spies, so you can be sure that A Most Wanted Man is full of convoluted ways to get intel, avoid giving intel and plenty of immense paranoia from all sides. These ways of spying or avoiding being spied on could be totally accurate or they could be totally ludicrous. The thing is, it doesn’t matter either way. Because watching these kinds of experts with their particular sets of skills is always entertaining.
Which is for the best, because I didn’t always follow the story all that well. I’m not blaming the movie for that, my attention was everywhere but the TV when I watched it. But like the authenticity of the spy methods, the specifics of the story don’t matter all that much either. It’s the little set pieces, watching plans put into action, fail, and on the fly alternatives being come up with and executed. Or not executed. A movie like A Most Wanted Man is pure tension and anxiety first, story second.