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'A Most Wanted Man' review: A jaded perspective on modern espionage

Robin Wright, Anton Corbijn, and Rachel McAdams attend the premiere for "A Most Wanted Man."
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

A Most Wanted Man

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British spy novelist John le Carre has had success with film adaptations of his books, from “The Constant Gardener” to “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” and the latest, “A Most Wanted Man,” managed to make the box office top ten this past weekend after totals from Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, despite its limited availability. Director Anton Corbijn’s (“The American”) variation is receiving critical praise and a public interest in one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last films.

In Hamburg, Germany, national security has been a major concern since 9/11. The active spy team led by Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has located an illegal immigrant, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), with Russian and Chechen lineage previously tortured in Turkish prison. Issa is looking for asylum but has come to Germany to attain assistance from banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe). Refusing the dirty money from his dead father’s account, humanitarian lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) and Tommy must work with Bachmann and his team (Nina Hoss, Daniel Bruhl, Vicky Krieps) to use Issa as a pawn to expose terrorist funding by renowned Muslim speaker Abdullah (Hamayoun Ershadi) in order to protect Issa, their client. Meanwhile, other German officials and the Americans (led by Robin Wright) fear terrorist activities and will not risk time for espionage.

Le Carre’s modern espionage tale reflects current events and the world’s fear of terrorism while showing the government’s lack of delicacy facing espionage. A middle finger to the C.I.A. with more American presence than in his novel, “A Most Wanted Man” confronts everything from religious profiling to the lack of power of bleeding-hearts.

The book is (almost) always better, which is definitely the case with “A Most Wanted Man.” The art of le Carre’s writing is smarter and more subtle. Much is cut out to emphasize Gunther and Martha (Wright) rather than sharing the equal viewpoints of Annabel and Tommy with Gunther. Issa, too, practically has no personality. The character of Martha only utters a handful of sentences in the novel, but she becomes equally present as Annabel and Tommy in the film. This emphasis on the American involvement is a little ham-fisted.

For purists when it comes to book-to-film adaptations, “A Most Wanted Man” may feel closer to a Spark Notes version, but the tone and quality of presentation still exists. However, Corbijn speeds up the slow pace of the novel, and the timeframe of events becomes unclear. For those with less time to read le Carre’s wonderful writing, “A Most Wanted Man” is a decent adaptation that truly gets to the heart of its story and could earn Hoffman a posthumous Academy Award nomination.

Rating for “A Most Wanted Man:” A-

For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.

“A Most Wanted Man” is playing in five theatres in Columbus: Drexel, Marcus Crosswoods, Rave Polaris, and AMC Lennox and Dublin. For showtimes, click here.