"No. Yes. Maybe"
The last movie Anton Corbijn directed was The American, a pretty good movie about one particular gun-for-hire, in a network of them, that is considering retirement before being retired permanently and against his will. Starring George Clooney, it had the feeling of a Western set in the more rustic parts of Italy and clothed in the dark shades of spy-paranoia (Corbijn's previous film was Control, a bio-pic of singer Ian Stuart and, before that, music videos for the likes of U2 and Metallica) that was only undermined by a last-minute jag of sentimentality and heavy symbolism.
His latest doesn't run too far afield of that genre, an adaptation of John Le Carré's post-9/11 anti-terror study A Most Wanted Man. Le Carré wrote the best of the spy novels of the 60's and 70's (still does, in fact), catching attention with "The Spy Who Came From the Cold," his "Smiley/Karla" trilogy—"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," "The Honourable Schoolboy" and "Smiley's People." As he was a former cog in British Intelligence, le Carré wrote of spies realistically as rumpled, foibled functionaries, in stark contrast to the notorious spies of the Bond decade; heads turn when James Bond's supposedly "secret" agent walks into a room, whereas le Carre's could enter and then leave without ever being noticed...or cared about. He stuttered a bit when the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended—his "The Russia House" and "The Tailor of Panama" showed intelligence operatives struggling to maintain their relevance...and operating budgets—but after 9/11, Le Carré, ever the humanist, turned his baleful eye to the gears of government security and how human beings can be buried in an avalanche of metrics, statistics and damnable lies.
I've always seen his "The Russia House" as an Eastern-bloc version of Casablanca, where "the problems of two little people" not only amount to more than "a hill of beans in this crazy world," but are actually more important than the high-stakes gamesmanship of self-important foreign powers. That's a theme running throughout his books, which has only increased as he's railed against U.S. tactics in the war on terror, where there is more "bully" than "pulpit."
|McAdams watches Dobrigyin be caught in the middle
|Bachmann (Hoffman) in his office. The cluttered cork-board has lately
become a signifier of a crazy person in film-culture.
|Bachmann out in the cold
And that's the tragedy of it, as le Carré has always presented it. You can't make a better world by simply eliminating the worst elements of it. You have to replace it with something better, or evil will simply exist in another form, and we will end up making the same mistakes again and again.
Because what's the use of Intelligence, if you don't learn anything?