Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 31, 2014

A Most Wanted Man

Hamburg-Hafen-Elbe4

I saw A Most Wanted Man a little while back. I liked it, in no small degree because of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance. I would go so far as to say that I liked this film adaptation of the book better than the book itself (which, in fairness, I have engaged only in an abridged audiobook format). I thought that the movie made a smart choice in focusing on the character of Günther Bachmann (played by Hoffman) and paying less attention (compared to the book) to the character of Tommy Brue (played by Willem Dafoe). I have no real complaints about Dafoe’s performance, but the Brue character is just not a great POV character, IMHO. Also (spoilers, sort of), the ending, I thought, felt less anti-climactic in the movie than in the book.

And, it is a credit to the director and his team that they could make a signature party in a bank office suspenseful (indeed, climactic).

I do not claim to be an expert on the fiction of John le Carré. That said, the book A Most Wanted Man did not seem to me to have the same gravitas as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I suspect that, in part, this is a side effect of the end of the Cold War. In those earlier novels, part of the setting and climate of the stories was the background consciousness that the particular plots of the characters were pieces in a much larger conflict between two world superpowers and their spheres of influence — the Eastern Bloc vs. the Western Bloc. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union, that background vanishes. It strikes me that the end of the Cold War must have been very hard on writers like John le Carré and Tom Clancy.

Over at Howl at Pluto, LFC was less impressed by the movie than I was. Also worth a read is this Slate review by Dana Stevens (“As he did so many times before, Philip Seymour Hoffman elevates the movie around him”). See also this review by Chris Ryan. Anderson has a short review in this post.

Image Credit: Port of Hamburg. Wikimedia Commons.

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Responses

  1. Well, I disagree, esp. re the ending. I thought the ending was better in the book. In the movie, you don’t see the young woman lawyer (whose name is momentarily escaping me) being dragged along screaming as she beats on the door of the van (a sequence vividly described in the book). You don’t see Bachmann being rather seriously injured by the crash in the movie, whereas he is in the book. The ending in the book is more brutal, violent, shocking than in the movie. It’s in keeping w the movie’s apparent determination to tone everything down that gives the bk its anger and political bite. (I do agree that the movie was wise to focus on Bachmann and cut down the Brue focus. A two-hour movie has to compress and that was a reasonable compression — though it’s clear in the bk that LeCarre is having a lot of fun w the Brue character and his mixture of Englishness and cosmopolitanism.)

    The only other LeCarre novel I’ve read in recent years is ‘Tinker Tailor…’. I thought this was, in its way, just as good, better in some ways. Indeed, what impressed me was that he didn’t *need* the Cold War background to produce a quite gripping novel. (Depending on how much was abridged in the audiobook, it’s entirely possible that the format didn’t do it justice, but it’s prob. more likely we just disagree. These things are, of course, subjective.)

  2. P.s. Dafoe was badly cast anyway, not really right for the role, so just as well his part was minimized. I mean, he wasn’t terrible, but I think an English actor (or one w who can fake being English) wd have been better.

  3. Maybe the lesson here is: don’t trust abridgements.


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