Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carré [Book-to-Movie Edition]--Philip Seymour Hoffman's Last Film Role! Now Available on Blu-ray & DVD!

"A Most Wanted Man" by John Le Carré.
This is the book-to-movie paperback
edition from [1]
Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     Philip Seymour Hoffman. In one of his last films before his death, we were privileged to see him portray Mickey Scarpatto in God's Pocket. (Click here to see my book-to-movie review and trailer.) God's Pocket, by Pete Dexter, came to the big screen May 9, 2014, in limited release.

God's Pocket by Pete
Dexter. [2]
     When the movie came out, it didn't come to the area where I live, so I rented the movie from Amazon to see one of his last performances. Though the film was a little dark and a bit grainy, I am happy I was able to view that film. 

Child 44 by Tom Rob
Smith [4]
     In another film, Hoffman had been cast in the book-to-movie best-seller, Child 44, by Rob Tom Smith; Hoffman has since been replaced. Since filming started in June, producers needed a last minute fill-in--Hoffman's part in the movie will be filled by Vincent Cassel (of Black Swan, Ocean's Twelve, and Ocean's Thirteen fame). It is our great loss that we will not see Hoffman in the role in which he had been cast.  [3]

Mockingjay: The Hunger
 by Suzanne
Collins [5]
     And then, we all loved Hoffman in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire last fall. Hoffman was also suppose to reprise his role for the final film of the trilogy, The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay, Parts 1 and 2. According to GMA News Online, all of Hoffman's scenes for Part 1 had been captured on film, but he, apparently, still had about one week's filming to do for Part 2. GMA has indicated that what was left to film of Hoffman may be cured by utilizing CGI. Part 1 is currently scheduled for release on November 21, 2014 and Part 2 November 20, 2015. [6]

A Most Wanted Man,
the movie, opens in
theaters 07-25-14. [7]
     A Most Wanted Man, book by John Le Carré, coming to the big screen as a book-to-movie, is currently scheduled for release to theaters on July 25, 2014. So, whether you count The Hunger Games or A Most Wanted Man as Philip Seymour Hoffman's last film role is up to you. What is important is that we will no longer have the on-screen presence of Mr. Hoffman. Since this is one of his last films, I wanted to take a look at the book that will come to the big screen starring a wonderful actor in a great supporting role: that of Gunter Bachmann. But, before we talk more about the upcoming film, let's get to the reason we are all here, today...the book review of the very popular book, A Most Wanted Man, by John Le Carré.    

    The back of the paperback edition indicates that a young Russian man, recently smuggled into the German city of Hamburg in the middle of the night, wears a "long black overcoat" which conceals a purse, of sorts, around his neck--inside the pouch is a large amount of money. Issa, the smuggled man, claims to be a very devout Muslim. The reader can hardly believe the young man's improbable story; is Issa really who he claims to be?

     Issa enlists the aid of Annabel, a young civil rights lawyer who soon becomes determined to keep Issa from being deported. Issa's very survival is at risk, but Annabel risks her own career and safety to keep Issa safe. Enlisting the aid of Tommy Brue, an aging Hamburg banker, the two strike a bargain and soon are working to dig up Issa's "mysterious" past. Adding to the mix of complications, authorities, in their fight in the "War on Terror," become aware of Issa and are soon trailing him and investigating the mysterious young man. 

Hamburg, Germany showing the
location of the surrounding
countries. [10]
     Soon, as Germany, England, and America "sense a sure kill," they begin converging on the small, intimate group of people working to help Issa. Does Issa really want to go to medical school to become a doctor or has he come to Hamburg for a different more nefarious purpose? Are Anabel and Tommy Brue dupes, or are they part of a more sinister plan? What do all these people have to do with the post 9/11 War on Terror? How will the uncovering of Issa's story change the lives of all involved?

     The spy or espionage genre are neither my favorite nor my least favorite of genre's to read. I only read from this genre sporadically and only when I see something really worth while come along. That is one of my major reasons for selecting today's book review book. I also loved the idea of seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman, a wonderful actor, on screen in a film. 

     I found an interview of John Le Carré where he explains a few of his thoughts about his book, A Most Wanted Man. I think the interview is worth watching and is only 8:51 minutes long. I enjoyed watching the author being able to show his enthusiasm for his work as well as various locations from the book. Also apparent is Le Carré's love for Germany, and Hamburg, in particular, which he uses as a backdrop for his novel. Watch this short interview and see what you think. [11]

     The tension in the novel between the, as le Carré calls it, "political imperative," and personal morality plays itself out in the relationships among the characters in their tangled web of interactions. We see the impersonal and destructive actions of spy agencies forcing moral choices on targets of state action. I think this is writing at its best, and John Le Carré has certainly cornered the market in the spy/thriller/mystery genre.

This social meme points out that
sometimes decisions that need to be
made become "moral dilemna[s]" (ob-
viously, the decision that needs to be
 made is: "what is the correct spelling
of "dilemma?").  A real moral dilemma
is one in which a difficult choice has
to be made between two (or more)
equally undesirable alternatives. [12]
     We also see just how destructive agency actions can be in leveraging specific conduct for the benefit of agents and their governments. When the target is left with no real choice, either submit and betray yourself and another or be destroyed, the toll becomes apparent. It is a huge moral dilemma for the people involved. Problematically, the effect is that these choices are coerced behind the scenes and away from the viewing public, so no outcry can damage governmental or agency goals. I really enjoyed the tension created by the "politcal imperative," and personal morality of the characters. The struggle in the reality of the situations really brings home the internal suffering and damage to the character of a person in that situation.

     The post 9/11 political climate and dramatically increased fear of continued terrorists' attacks is beautifully exemplified in Le Carré's novel. As of the time of the setting for this novel we had, yet, to hear about human rights violations and the magnified fear that many refugees felt when fleeing one country and emigrating into another--out of the frying pan and into the fire, for some.

     The fact that Le Carré showcases the plight of some refugees and the "between a rock and a hard place" that some find themselves in as regards to being seen as an espionage threat, is dramatic. Also, that agencies, in general, and the spy world, in this fictional novel, fail to have a moral compass is an indicator of what may have been going on in the "real" world. 

     First, the characters. Issa, the immigrant about which the action centers, is pretty flat as a character. I realize the point was to keep him mysterious and to not know what he was all about, but I felt like I really didn't care about him the way I seemed to about others in the book. Likewise, Tommy Brue, had potential; he just didn't have anything striking or unique about him. For example, he wasn't a great lover (apparently, his wife wasn't satisfied), he wasn't a great banker (his bank was slowly failing), and not much good at helping Annabel. So, he, too, is flat for a character.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (on right),
stars as Gunter Bachmann; Charlotte
Schwab (on left) as Martha. [15]
     The most interesting of the three major characters is Annabel, the human rights lawyer whom everyone seems to like. She is faced with a moral dilemma that goes against everything she works for in her career. And finally, Philip Seymour Hoffman's role, that of Agent Gunther Bachmann, is one I look forward to seeing in the movie to see just what Hoffman does with his supporting role.

     Second, I understand that the pacing is one in which the tension builds until we hit the climax, but here, it is just too slow in the beginning. We are introduced to Max (a fighter) and led to believe he will be an important part of the story, but after devoting a good amount of time in the opening pages to Max, we leave him behind. He never becomes anything important in the story other than a way to introduce Issa. Too much time was spent on Max; so much so, that I ended up caring more about Max than I did the other characters in the story.

     Third, the ending. The ending was so abrupt and shockingly fast that I didn't even have time to take it in that it was the end. I had to go back a few pages and reread to try and understand the final moments of the characters interactions. And, while I doubt the story could have ended much differently, the abruptness of it was shocking. The harsh realities of the espionage world are seen in the light of day, so to speak. It is brutal and sad, but there it is.

     As I indicated above, this movie is one of Hoffman's last roles on screen. Let's take a look at the trailer to try and get an indication of what the viewing audience is in for with this potentially exciting movie. Please enjoy this trailer from YouTube. [17]

     Directing the mystery/spy thriller is Anton Corbijn with writing credits going to John Le Carré (novel) and Andrew Bovell (screenplay). Starring with Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who plays Gunther Bachmann), will be Rachel McAdams as Annabel Richter, Robin Wright as Martha Sullivan, Willem Defoe as Tommy Brue, Grigoriy Dobrygin as Issa Karpov, Daniel Bruhl as Max, Nina Hoss as Erna Frey and Mehdi Dehbi as Jamal. I am greatly looking forward to seeing this movie, admittedly, because of Philip Seymour Hoffman's appearance as Gunther Bachmann. I will be there on July 25, 2014, to see the film.

Because of the inclusion
of the topic of torture in
the novel, I would caution
highly sensitive people and
the young to consider the
impact on themselves
 before reading. [18]
     The MPAA rating for the movie is "R" for language. I would rate the book similarly, but for slightly different reasons. The topic of torture is one that for sensitive people, or the young, would not be appropriate for reading. To the general adult reading population, this book would be not only acceptable, but one that should be read...the timely topics are critically important for all mature adults to understand and consider.

     For all the reasons I have given above, I would say that I am glad that I read A Most Wanted Man and would do so, again. I would recommend this book to the appropriate audience, mature adults not of a sensitive nature. Weighing the positive and negative attributes of the book, I, therefore, rate this book 3.0 stars out of 5.

     Thank you for joining me this week as we looked at the exciting thriller, A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carré. Please join me again, next week, as we leave behind the serious and bleak world of espionage and take up a book with a much lighter flare and much more fun. Please don't forget to pick up a book and read a little bit each day, even five to ten minutes, will refresh your mind.

Until next time...
A Double White Rose of Sharon. [19]

...many happy pages of reading!

My very best to you all!

[1] "A Most Wanted Man." Retrieved 07-01-14.
[2] "God's Pocket." Retrieved 07-04-14.
[3] "Vincent Cassel Replacing Philip Seymour Hoffman in 'Child 44.'" Retrieved 07-04-14.
[4] "Child 44: The Child 44 Trilogy." Retrieved 07-04-14.
[5] "Mockingjay: The Hunger Games." Retrieved 07-04-14.
[6] "CG Model To Replace Philip Seymour Hoffman in Hunger Games." Retrieved 07-04-14.
[7] "A Most Wanted Man..." Retrieved 07-04-14.
[8] "Synopsis." Retrieved 07-04-14.
[9] "The War on Terror." Retrieved 07-05-14.
[10] "Hamburg: Location." Retrieved 07-05-14.
[11] "A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carre Extended Version." Retrieved 07-05-14.
[12] "Imperfections of Moral Choice." Retrieved 07-05-14.
[13] "Kucherena: US Pushing Russia Towards Double Standards, Human Rights Violations." Retrieved 07-05-14.
[14] "Character Development and Plot Tension...." Retrieved 07-05-14.
[15] "A Most Wanted Man Picture 5." Retrieved 07-05-14.
[16] "The Best Ending to the Christian Story: Series Wrap." Retrieved 07-05-14.
[17] "A Most Wanted Man Official Trailer #1." Retrieved 07-05-14.
[18] "Torture Blood Word." Retrieved 07-05-14.
[19] "Three Stars." Retrieved 07-05-14.
[20] "Pictures From My Garden." Retrieved 06-18-14.