Willem Dafoe and Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man. 


Australian screenwriter and playwright Andrew Bovell never got to meet Philip Seymour Hoffman but the actor signed up for a key role in A Most Wanted Man while Bovell was still working on the script of espionage thriller.

Hence Bovell could tailor the dialogue of Hoffman’s character for the actor, who plays Gunther Bachmann, the leader of a Hamburg-based anti-terrorist squad whose remit is to stop an atrocity like 9/11 from happening on German soil.

Adapted from a John le Carré novel and directed by Dutchman Anton Corbijn (The American), the film opens in the US on July 25 via Lionsgate and in Australia on July 31, via Roadshow.

“With an actor like Hoffman, you need less dialogue because he could convey a line with a look,” Bovell tells IF. During development the writer met with Corbijn in London and Hamburg but the conversations were mostly about the tone and mood the director wanted.

Bovell didn’t get to visit the set because when shooting started in October 2012 he was immersed in writing the stage version of Kate Grenville’s novel The Secret River for the Sydney Theatre Co.

He saw several cuts before watching the final print and says, “I’m very impressed with the film. We set out to capture the relationship between the West and Islam post 9/11, and the fact we have lost the ability to recognise innocence. It’s a very European film that is very truthful about spying and quite truthful to the novel.”

Apart from Hoffman, who died in February, aged 46, the cast includes Daniel Brühl, Willem Dafoe, Nina Hoss and Rachel McAdams. Grigoriy Dobrygin plays a young half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant who tries to infiltrate Hamburg’s underground Islamic community.

Among the producers are Simon Cornwell and Stephen Cornwell, the sons of John le Carré (who was born David Cornwell). Stephen Cornwell says they hired Bovell after admiring his work on Lantana, which he adapted from his play Speaking in Tongues.

“We all had a huge respect for Lantana which really spoke to a lot of the levels of character intrigue and deception we wanted,” says Cornwell. “Lantana had the same richness of characterisation and story-telling."

The reviews after its world premiere at the Sundance festival and last week at the Edinburgh Film Festival have been overwhelmingly positive.

Variety’s Justin Chang hailed a “meticulously plotted, steadily absorbing Hamburg-set drama that casts a cynical yet compassionate eye on the complexities of counterterrorist work in the post-9/11 era. Adopting the same cool, methodical approach that he did in his offbeat procedural The American, Corbijn succeeds here in large part because his attention to nuance and detail so fully complements that of the German operatives at the story’s core."

The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy observed Bovell’s screenplay “keeps the intrigue percolating while paring away everything necessary to deliver the essentials in two hours. The story is a jigsaw puzzle in which all the pieces are of an indistinguishable grey, making fitting them together a tricky matter.”

Now the writer, whose other film credits include Edge of Darkness, Blessed and The Book of Revelation, is deep into developing an erotic thriller set in Shanghai for director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, How I Live Now) and his brother, producer Andrew Macdonald.

The tale of the wife of a US businessman who is kidnapped in China, the screenplay is based on Japanese director Hideo Nakata’s Kaosu (Chaos).

“There are a lot of great reveals so you don’t know what is coming next,” he says. “Setting it in Shanghai also allows us to look at the rise of China and the decline of the US.”

Bovell is bound for Shanghai soon on a recce with the director and the script is about to go out to prospective cast.

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