A Most Wanted Man

Year: 2014
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Anton Corbijn
Writer: Andrew Bovell/John le Carré
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Daniel Brühl

It's very hard to make a spy thriller, because little of what goes on like the disguises, false identities and international intrigue is very realistic, informed more by a generation of James Bond movies than the real business of intelligence.

Even though this movie has plenty of those elements, something elevates it above the dross and makes it seem both grittier and more stylish. Perhaps it's the air of mystique of ancient Europe, something that's hard to manage in an American setting.

The fact that it's all done with American actors makes it all the more successful, although it picks a pretty lazy side of the language/subtitle debate by having everyone speak in English with accents.

A young man washes up in the harbour of Hamburg, apparently having jumped off a ship. His only claim to anything of value is a key that opens a safe deposit box at an old money bank, but he refuses to use it.

The young man, Issa, is a Chechen national and the son of a former corrupt Soviet officer who spirited his blood money fortune away into the bank, something both Issa and the bank's owner, Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe) know all too well.

Tommy wants to help Issa, because the latter finds his way into the care of a young lawyer, Annabel (Rachel McAdams) who specialises in helping the stateless poor and who Tommy has a barely concealed fancy for.

And it's all watched by a jaded senior intelligence officer in the German spy apparatus, Gunther (Philip Seymour Hoffman), because of links to a wealthy Muslim who might have links to terrorism.

Gunther has multiple parties breathing down his neck, from his own overseers and rival agencies to the gentler hand of the US, thanks to a CIA analyst (Robin Wright, tailor made for the role of a professional ice queen and spook) who's trying to convince Gunther to share information.

The grizzled Gunther is a cynic and trusts nobody, his only interest having enough time to work Issa to reveal the connection everyone assures him is there.

There's no fistfights on top of a speeding train, jetboat chases or gorgeous double agents with their clothes falling off. Like The Constant Gardener, this film has a sheen of realism and quality thanks to some great performances and a stately colour palette that befits the setting and story.

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