Bearded Chechen militants. Stealth German spies. Opaque Muslim leaders. Shady
Adapted from a 2008 John le Carré novel and set in post-
"Unfortunately, the story is topical," says Corbijn of the film, which opens Friday. "The book was based on real-life events so it was art imitating life. But after the
Much of what's touched on in the Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions production does seem as if it's alluding to recent headlines — from revelations that we're under surveillance by the
But the story line was written years before these developments. It's one of famed spy novelist Le Carré's (real name: David Cornwell) later works, dealing with terrorism, national security and values in the new, chaotic world. His earlier books, including the George Smiley series, dealt with what in retrospect seems like the simpler days of the Cold War.
In "Wanted Man," German Günter Bachmann (
But in dealing with Germany's intelligence services and the CIA, he also sees how paranoia and arrogance can render pinpoint operations scattered and innocent people guilty. It's a paradigm that keeps his moral compass spinning between poles.
When a young Chechen Muslim man arrives in Hamburg with a questionable inheritance from his Russian father, it sets off a chain of regrettable incidents that at times feel eerily prescient.
Le Carré has always explored the murky areas between right and wrong in his writing, but his earlier novels featured more definitive heroes and villains, and the film adaptations of those books mirrored that dynamic. Many of his 20-plus novels have been made into TV thrillers such as the
But as the very nature of warfare, enemies and global threats has changed, so have Le Carré's novels. They now reflect a world where acts of terror can happen anywhere and ambiguity over what to do about it is far more prevalent than actionable absolutes.
Le Carré's sons, Stephen and Simon Cornwell, produced "A Most Wanted Man," and they say the movie reflects their father's complex moral and political viewpoint.
"The film has no antagonist," Stephen Cornwell said. "There isn't a villain. Everybody is human, and all their motivations are grounded in some truth. We didn't want to say there was a right or wrong. Too many movies and narrative forms try to define things in too absolute a way. That was one of the more fascinating things about making this."
A cerebral film far from the world of Jason Bourne, there are no high-speed car chases through crowded plazas, major helicopter explosions or building-leaping spies who defy gravity with their hair neatly in place.
"It would have been a lot easier to have the police storm the building and beat people up," joked Netherlands native Corbijn. Before making his last two films, 2007's "Control" and 2010's
From its backdrop (Hamburg) to its ethos (thoughtful and nuanced), the film has a very distinct European worldview. When the U.S. is represented here, it's via a cold, act-now, ask-questions-later CIA spy played by
"Someone said to me, 'You're anti-American,' which is funny because I like America very much," said Corbijn, who is working on a film about James Dean. "But America likes to be seen as the beacon of democracy, so I think it's valid to ask questions about some of its actions. ... In the name of freedom, things get done that actually limit our freedom. I think these are things to worry about — or at least think about."
"A Most Wanted Man," which also stars
His portrayal of a man so obsessed with his mission that it's literally destroying his health is almost too believable at times. Hoffman, who died in February of a drug overdose, is smoking nonstop in the film and is often huffing and puffing merely walking down the street.