A Most Wanted Man Review

Posted: December 20, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

a most wanted manWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

I think I speak for everyone when I say one of the most tragic loses the film community suffered this year was the untimely passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Simply put, Hoffman is one of the best actors of his generation, one who built help an incredibly consistent body of work over the years. He has some duds (who hasn’t?) but for the most part he was able to deliver a plethora of strong performances that really resonated. I can also say he is one of my all-time favourite actors, both for the high quality of the films he was in, as well as his own work. He was an actor I always looked forward to watching and any of his films are of interest to me. With his passing, these films take on an even greater importance and though his last on-screen role will likely be The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two, his true swan song is pretty much unanimously declared to be John le Carré adaptation A Most Wanted Man.

Set in modern day Hamburg, A Most Wanted Man follows Günther Bachmann (Hoffman), an espionage agent in charge of a small team responsible for spying on the local Muslim community. His attention is raised when Muslim refugee Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) enters Hamburg illegally. Karpov has ties to a Muslim war criminal, and the government is not sure if he is a victim looking for safety, or a terrorist with an agenda. Günther decides to observe and make his move as things develop, but he faces pressure from boss Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock) who wants more swift action. Also in the mix is American correspondent Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), journalist Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), and banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe).

A Most Wanted Man is a film that is very much tapped into modern day paranoia regarding acts of terror and the Islamic community. Opening text discusses how the 9/11 attacks were planned from Hamburg and the effects that has had on the intelligence community since. There isn’t any overt references after that, but throughout the film one can feel the shadow of such actions permeating the tone of the film and the decisions its key players make. The film also raises issues regarding the rights of suspects, surveillance, and espionage. That said, while these elements are important, neither screenwriter Andrew Bovell or director Anton Corbijn seem particularly interesting in exploring or analyzing these themes themselves, instead being content to merely raise the questions and hopefully provoke some suggestion. There is a good sense of Günther’s personal political view point, but Corbijn is more about presenting Günther’s views rather than making them a surrogate for the viewpoint. At its core, A Most Wanted Man is a spy thriller that intends to present the espionage in an accurate and exciting way. On that level, Corbijn certainly succeeds. The film certainly feels very authentic, and it’s visuals of desks overflowing with papers and standard office halls and cubicles is appropriate. Additionally, the procedural is engaging and while the film is lacking many “big moments”, Corbijn successfully keeps things moving and there is never a dull moment.

If Corbijn drops the ball in any respect it is as a stylist. A Most Wanted Man lacks any real artistic flair that would have helped it be a bit more substantial. That isn’t to say the film looks bad, or even workman like. The cinematography is professional, the art direction appropriate, and the compositions are fine. There’s nothing really wrong with the look of the film, it just feels rather ordinary. When one compares the visual style to what Fernando Meirelles and Tomas Alfredson did with their John le Carré adaptations (The Constant Gardener and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, respectively) and this feels flaccid by comparison. Still, Corbijn does deserve credit for crafting some pretty engaging sequences, as well as for having his actors use German accents (though I assume the characters are actually speaking German).

I opened this review by expressing admiration to Philip Seymour Hoffman so it feels appropriate to return to his work. His performance here is very strong. Hoffman is perfectly cast as an earnest and gruff, but ultimately well-intentioned professional merely aiming to do his job the best he can. He really sinks into the role and I really dug his voice work, not only the accent he used but his tone and the overall quality of his voice. Having said that, this is not a tour de force rivalling his great turns in films like Capote or The Master. Rather, it is a case of the great actor doing what he does best, which is still admirable. The rest of the cast is equally strong. Rachel McAdams is well-cast as a caring journalist fighting for victim’s rights, as is Robin Wright as an older professional who possess dignity and intelligence. Willem Dafoe does good work as a banker caught in the middle of a situation he doesn’t want to be in and lesser known actors such as Grigoriy Dobrygin, Rainer Bock, Homayoun Ershadi, and Mehdi Dehbi all play their roles very effectively. Overall, it’s a very good cast. Every actor feels appropriately chosen and all inhabit their roles well.

It’s hard to really argue with A Most Wanted Man. It’s a very engaging and well-written thriller that is well-made, has a very strong cast, and is generally without major faults. That said, this isn’t really ambitious or special enough to truly impress. While it raises some interesting contemporary issues, it doesn’t really explore them in any new or exciting ways, and while it is well-made, it lacks the execution of a truly great film. Still, A Most Wanted Man remains a very entertaining and intelligent spy procedural and that’s nothing to scoff at. I certainly recommend people see it, even if I don’t think it’ll rock anyone’s world.

B+

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