Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Most Wanted Man (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

A Most Wanted Man

Dutch master Anton Corbijn, (The American) a poet of images which are strikingly and invariably tinted in slate gray, got his start directing provocative videos for U2 and Nirvana. His trademarks of vast cement spaces, anything but vacant, have a watchful and pensive quality. Even his sterile rectangles have eyes.

We have these hypnotic qualities expressed again in "A Most Wanted Man,," Corbijn's latest thriller.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is Gunther, the head of a covert anti-terrorist team, driven by turns with ambition and fear. Hoffman in his role is a kind of inflated jellyfish, pale and flaccid with a thousand eyes. In his incarnation of Gunther, he surfs the nether zone of Hamburg to catch what he can, eerily melting into the gray, seaweed browns, and turgid greens of the director's palette.

A speck of silver, like a dangerous falling star, lights up his phone.

A young soiled man in a wet hoodie ( Grigoriy Dobrygin) has dragged himself along Hamburg's banks supposedly seeking asylum as a Chechen.

Gunther is immediately on alert, his ashy white eyebrows rising in wait.

But he has other eyes on him.

Rival agent Mohr (a scary bureaucratic Rainer Bock) wants this grunge-dude before he contacts possible terror groups while Gunther wants to wait, having a chance to catch a bigger target, the soft-spoken and distinguished Professor Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi).

There is also a frosty agent Martha (Robin Wright) who puts some soft screws on Gunther under the guise of some acid civility.

Gunther's existence becomes increasingly narrow and claustrophobic; he doesn't know where to go or who to trust. He moves in a subterranean realm. Gunther removes himself from the mortal square, half octopus, half shark, a cigarette his only breathing tube.

Daniel Bruhl appears as a human marker behind a monochrome screen. A human pencil who eternally watches. There is also a formal and detached banker (perfectly,  if predictably played by Willem Dafoe).

Rather then hit us with a slug and crunch as in the Bourne or Bond episodes, we are led as a camera in captivity within circular orbits where there is often little more than some half uttered phobias and squelched  sighs as a solitary camera looks on, myopic and inhuman.

These are people who exist behind walls and borders and plastic. They are blanched and not quite normal. Anton Corbijn is at his best in capturing this enervating and snickering world, polarized against the sloshing soup of Hamburg's canals, not to mention its generic and faceless buildings with angles as sharp as a shark, and shut windows that pose harsh accusals of no entrance.

"A Most Wanted Man" is terrific as a winding and visual garrote that subtlety seduces us with its snaky cinematography and then pulls us in by the neck, but symbolically and cinematically, the film can be seen as a final mirror of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the actor of a hundred faces, a thespian / spy who went to the underbelly of life to gather a wealth of dramatic intelligence and came up against an unpredictable and very personal double cross.

When his Gunther is left wheezing, overwhelmed and mortified from an unfortunate car, it is natural, perhaps, to think of Hoffman himself as the camera's perspective is left nonchalant and cast aside to follow Gunther / Hoffman as he walks away, bereft, detached, and ultimately resigned in whatever awaits.

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