This film's story is set in Hamburg. Source novel author John le Carré worked for British intelligence's MI5 & MI6 during the 1950s and 1960s and worked in both Berlin and Hamburg. Le Carré was in Berlin when the Berlin Wall was being constructed. In Hamburg, Le Carré has worked as both a consul and as an agent.
John le Carré's source novel 'A Most Wanted Man' is based on the real life of Murat Kurnaz, a Muslim Turkish citizen and legal resident of Germany who was arrested in Pakistan in late 2001 and with the German government's awareness incarcerated by extraordinary rendition (aka irregular rendition) at US military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan and in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba for five years.
First ever filmed production collaboration of John le Carré with both and each of his sons, Simon Cornwell and Stephen Cornwell. The latter pair are producers on this film whilst le Carré is the author of the film's source novel, "A Most Wanted Man" (2008), as well as many other spy novels. John le Carré's real birth name is "David Cornwell", with his actual full name being "David John Moore Cornwell", sharing the same "Cornwell" last name surname as his sons, Simon Cornwell and Stephen Cornwell. The Night Manager (2016) became the second collaboration and Our Kind of Traitor (2016) the third collaboration of the sons with their father who again also wrote both of these two productions' source novels.
Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman worked with screenwriter Andrew Bovell on his characterization of Gunther Bachmann, a character for whom he came to have a great empathy. Hoffman said: "This movie is about a lot of things including, obviously, how countries deal with terrorism. But it's also about a man who keeps doing the same thing and getting the same result. You get the feeling he can't stop. He really feels like he's trying to do the right thing and I think, actually, he is. But the world isn't going along with his way of taking care of the bad guys of the planet. I was just so taken with his tunnel vision. He just thought 'It's going to work this time and they're going to see that I know, that I actually know'. That's a hard way to live, to be someone who thinks, 'if they could just see what I see, they'll get it'. But they never let him get there and he keeps going there. He suffers."
Producer Stephen Cornwell said of the film's story: "One of the interesting things about A Most Wanted Man (2014) is that it doesn't really have an antagonist. It has lots of people who all believe they are doing the right thing but their reasons are all different. They come into conflict around one central objective, which is the most wanted man who they all see from a different perspective and want for different reasons."
For many of the cast and crew, including director Anton Corbijn and Philip Seymour Hoffman, A Most Wanted Man (2014) was their introduction to John le Carré's novels. Hoffman observed: "This is a human and humane story about governments and spy organisations which is usually told in a flashier, romantic style. There's nothing romantic about this. The book is in there for which I'm glad, as the book is amazing."
Source novelist John le Carré himself visited the set several times, lending his backing and encouragement to the process. As a seasoned observer of the journey from page to screen, le Carré believes his novels need to evolve to make that transformation successfully. For that to happen, le Carré is happy to take a step back.
The principal photography period on this picture ran for about forty days. This included thirty-eight days filming in Hamburg, the majority of the shoot, and at the end of principal photography, a further two days shooting in Berlin.
Producer Stephen Cornwell said of the adaptation of his father John le Carré's "A Most Wanted Man" book into film: "The novel is his, but the movie will be Anton's [director Anton Corbijn's] and that's a transition he really supports and enjoys. What's interesting about the adaptation is that it is quite distinct from the novel. There is a whole aspect to the novel that isn't in the movie. It finds its own language and its own way of telling the story. But at the same time it is incredibly true to the intent of the story. It's exactly what a really good adaptation should be. It takes a novel, respects its intent but it becomes something of its own."
The film was selected to compete and screened in the main competition section of both the 36th Moscow International Film Festival in June 2014 and the same year's 40th Deauville American Film Festival in September 2014. Previously, the picture had world premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2014.
The name of the nightclub where Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) and Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) try to shake off their pursuers is called "EGO" in Hamburg, Germany. It was the city's most well known scene-club for electronic music until it closed during mid-2014.
The synopsis of this movie's source novel "A Most Wanted Man" (2008) by John le Carré on his personal website reads: "A half-starved young Russian man in a long black overcoat is smuggled into Hamburg at dead of night. He has an improbable amount of cash secreted in a purse round his neck. He is a devout Muslim. Or is he? He says his name is Issa. Annabel, an idealistic young German civil rights lawyer, determines to save Issa from deportation. Soon her client's survival becomes more important to her than her own career. In pursuit of Issa's mysterious past, she confronts the incongruous Tommy Brue, the sixty-year-old scion of Brue Frères, a failing British bank based in Hamburg. Poignant, compassionate, peopled with characters the reader never wants to let go, A Most Wanted Man is alive with humour, yet prickles with tension until the last heart-stopping page. It is also a work of deep humanity, and uncommon relevance to our times."
Gail Egan, one of the film's producers, said of this movie: "It is a very European story and so we were looking for a European director. We thought Anton's style and the whole way he saw the story was just so exciting. We had all seen Control (2007) and thought it was absolutely brilliant. The American (2010) was just about to come out when we first approached Anton [Corbijn]." [See: Anton Corbijn].
Putting together the first-class cast who portray the complex web of characters who inhabit the world of A Most Wanted Man (2014) was director Anton Corbijn's achievement. Producer Stephen Cornwell recalled: "Anton was singularly precise about who he thought should play each role. In almost every situation, those are the people who are in the movie."
When star Philip Seymour Hoffman appeared in a play in Hamburg about twenty years before starring in this film which shot in Hamburg, on both occasions Hoffman stayed at the city's famed Hotel Atlantic.
Herbert Grönemeyer plays the role of Michael Axelrod. He is a very close friend to director Anton Corbijn. He is also the composer of this movie and Corbijn's former movie "The American". Corbijn directed several music videos for Grönemeyer and is working for him as a photographer for many years. Herbert Grönemeyer sold over 13 million copies of his albums and every album he released since 1984 went No.1 in Germany.
Director Anton Corbijn, who knew the German city of Hamburg well, and had directed his very first music video for Palais Schaumburg in the city back in 1983, was intrigued by the subject matter. Corbijn said: "We are dealing with a world that has changed so much since 2001. We judge people very quickly, everything has to be black or white. I feel this is something that is affecting all of our lives."
The movie first premiered in 2014 which was the 30th Anniversary year of the earlier filmed John le Carré adaptation of The Little Drummer Girl (1984). Both motion pictures deal with the subject of terrorism.
Potboiler Productions, headed by Gail Egan and Andrea Calderwood, had previously turned John le Carré's 2001 novel "The Constant Gardener" into a multiple award-winning feature film directed by Fernando Meirelles in 2005 [See: The Constant Gardener (2005)]. In contrast to the sunshine-infused African setting of this earlier film, for A Most Wanted Man (2014), this time the producers needed a director who could capture the grey moodiness of contemporary Hamburg, one of the most diverse, vibrant and rich cities in Europe. The person hired to direct was Anton Corbijn.
According to the movie's official website, the film's source novelist "John le Carré first came to know Hamburg during the Cold War years of the early 1960s, when he was posted there as Political Consul while working for the British government, and returned there more recently to research and write A Most Wanted Man."
German Production house "Amusement Park", based in two cities in Germany, Hamburg and Berlin, is headed by Malte Grunert. Malte joined the production at an early stage and ensured the film retained an authentic German flavor.
Director Anton Corbijn and screenwriter Andrew Bovell met a couple of times, including once in Hamburg in Germany, to talk through the adaptation. Bovell wrote most of the script in Australia, with Corbijn preferring to wait until he had a finished version in his hands before putting his own mark on it. Corbijn explained: "I find it much easier to reach to the writing on the page. Once it's finished I try to make it a little bit more mine. That's the nature of how I work."
The producers of the movie were able to access financial subsidies from Germany's federal incentive programme, the DFFF, as well as the regional German funds, the FilmForderung Hamburg Schelswig Holstein and the Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg. Of this, the film was financed in production subsidies from Hamburg's regional film body FilmFörderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein (FFHSH) to the value of EUR 900,000 euros which is approximately US $1.3 million. The production also received support from the European Media Production Guarantee Fund (EMPGF).
With financing from the UK's Film4 secured, Australian writer Andrew Bovell, best-known for writing the complex, sophisticated Australian drama Lantana (2001), was asked to write the script. Lantana (2001) won 7 Australian Film Awards (aka AFI Awards, now called AACTA Awards) and was based on Bovell's own stage play called "Speaking in Tongues". Producer Stephen Cornwell said of the choice of Bovell as screenwriter: "We all had a huge respect for Lantana (2001) which really spoke to a lot of the levels of character intrigue and deception we wanted to have. Lantana (2001) also has the same richness of characterization and storytelling."
Producer Stephen Cornwell, son of the film's source novelist John le Carré, was credited for "additional writing". This is the first ever shared writing credit of a cinema movie of le Carré with one of his sons.
The film's opening prologue states: "In 2001 Mohammad Atta conceived and planned the 9/11 attacks from the port city of Hamburg, Germany. Intelligence failures and interdepartmental rivalries allowed him and his team to prepare for the attacks without discovery or interference. Today Hamburg remains a city in high alert, the focus of both German and International Intelligence services, determined never to repeat the mistakes of 2001".