© 2014 by James Clark
Spy stories tend to get enmeshed in fulsome displays of overt cleverness and irony. Overt irony. Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man (2014) excitingly thinks outside the industry’s box.
Getting to the nub of its protagonist’s grubby accomplishment entails no small measure of mucking about in the narrative’s most murky moments. One of the most rewarding brownouts occurs when our protagonist, German agent, Gunther Bachmann, gets together with Martha, an American security expert based at the Embassy in Berlin, at a scuzzy bar at his home base of Hamburg. The picture of executive composure and sanguine fitness, always seen in a tastefully minimalist dark suit, she addresses her colleague—unkempt, overweight, insomnia-enshrouded—with, “Tell me which way you’re headed…” He sketches for her what she is well aware of, an Islamist terror ring prominently supported by a self-styled progressive fund raiser for humanitarian relief to displaced, innocent, warm-hearted Muslims. Bachmann’s immediate point, though, is that a more obvious and far less professional enemy of infidels, recently arrived in Hamburg, would be more effectively dealt with as a means of shutting down Abdullah the stealthy dealer of war bucks than as a jail-bound illegal small-fry. In the midst of his lobbying that simple dresser hopefully not simplistic, Bachmann becomes irritated that one of the drug-addled habitués of a place Martha responds to with, “Can’t do any better than this?” (no doubt mischievously chosen by our personally sloppy but professionally formidable and witty charmer of a guide through a minefield that can cut down the best of them) is beating the shit out of a lady friend. He goes over to the attacker and levels him with a heavy blow (not bad for a chain-smoker). But the lady insists, “It’s OK,” and the peace disturbers are quickly peaceful with one another. Martha tells him, “Now I’m really impressed…” But did either of these hawk-eyes consider the simplistic implications of such goodwill, staring them right in the face?