Neely Swanson

“A Most Wanted Man” – In Every Sense [MOVIE REVIEW]

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Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man. Photo credit: Kerry Brown

Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man. Photo credit: Kerry Brown

“A Most Wanted Man,” Andrew Bovell’s outstanding adaptation of John LeCarré’s novel directed by Anton Corbijn, was Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last completed film. His legacy was assured before he took this role but “A Most Wanted Man” is a fitting elegy to a great actor.

Gunter Bachmann (Hoffman) runs a small clandestine anti-terrorist unit in Hamburg, a city known not only for its beauty and history but also as the breeding ground where Mohammed Atta planned the 9-11 attacks. The German government, painfully aware of their own lack of surveillance and intelligence gaps that allowed terrorist cells to flourish now has multiple organizations tracking suspicious foreign activity. Much like the American approach to surveillance, each branch is in competition with the others lending urgency, hostility and political overtones to the hunt for information.

Gunter takes a long view and, as he states, he will use a minnow to catch a barracuda and a barracuda to catch a shark. When Issa Karpov, a known Chechen, the son of a Russian military gangster, is seen entering the country illegally, Gunter knows he’s found his minnow to trap Abdullah, a well-respected Islamic scholar who manages several Muslim charities. As Gunter and his rivals know, 90 percent of the money that Abdullah raises goes to legitimate charities but it is the 10 percent that routinely disappears that is of concern. Issa has arrived to claim a large inheritance stored for years in a clandestine German bank and it is up to Gunter, using that money as a decoy, to discover how 10 percent of the funds to Abdullah’s charities always seems to find a way to the Al Qaeda front they suspect is on the receiving end.

But Gunter is not the only one interested in Issa. His disdainful rival Dieter Mohr is aware of Issa’s presence and is anxious to use his torture techniques to extract answers from him. Further complicating matters is the “observational” presence of Martha Sullivan, an American agent sent to gather information on the suspects. Martha, bland as well as unctuous, befriends Gunter, probes him for information and offers him her help in getting him more time to accomplish his plan to entrap Abdullah with Issa’s money. When human rights lawyer Annabel Richter inserts herself into the immigration plight of Issa, Gunter will have to “turn” her before he can make his plan operational with Issa at the center.

But Gunter is not the only one interested in Issa. His disdainful rival Dieter Mohr is aware of Issa’s presence and is anxious to use his torture techniques to extract answers from him. Further complicating matters is the “observational” presence of Martha Sullivan, an American agent sent to gather information on the suspects. Martha, bland as well as unctuous, befriends Gunter, probes him for information and offers him her help in getting him more time to accomplish his plan to entrap Abdullah with Issa’s money. When human rights lawyer Annabel Richter inserts herself into the immigration plight of Issa, Gunter will have to “turn” her before he can make his plan operational with Issa at the center.

The pace of Corbijn’s film is slow and methodical. A puzzle with many pieces and necessary working parts, it is imperative to take this leisurely ride with him. Most thrillers start with a bang, proceed at light speed and end with an explosion. Not this film. But do not be mistaken for a moment because “A Most Wanted Man” is indeed a thriller and all those gears will mesh near the end and set off an explosion that will resonate long after the credits have run. As is so often the case in LeCarré’s novels, even the good guys aren’t very noble. Corbijn has it right — at issue throughout is what is lost in a process where there are limited gains. Motives are muddy, methods are suspect and results are questionable. Everyone has an agenda and although winning is part of it, it is who the loser is or will be that drives the players. As this is LeCarré, internecine politics figures heavily in everything.

Filming “A Most Wanted Man” in Hamburg, Corbijn has assembled an interesting and accomplished international cast. As stated earlier, Philip Seymour Hoffman has given us a final brilliant performance of a world-weary man who still believes in what he does, a George Smiley of a more modern era. Willem Dafoe as the mysterious banker lends a resigned gravitas to his role and Robin Wright as the American “observer” is surprisingly smooth, disguising her agenda and riding the third rail of hero and villain quite effectively. Grigoriy Dobrygin as Issa and Homayoun Ershadi as Abdullah are believable throughout and put a human face on true believers. Less effective, unfortunately, is Rachel McAdams as the lawyer, Annabel Richter. Her inability to convey the passion this woman feels for the job she does protecting immigrants seeking asylum and her lack of depth are all too evident. Like most of the secondary roles, it seem as if she has been cast for beauty rather than believability.

Like all good LeCarré stories, be prepared for a mighty punch in the gut. You may think you see it coming but I assure you, you won’t. And it is how it comes that will spur debate for, as always, it is difficult to discern who the winner are because in the end, everyone loses.

Opening  wide on Friday July 25 

 

 

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