A Most Wanted Man

Category:  Film
Friday, August 8th, 2014 at 4:32 PM
A Most Wanted Man by Eric Kisner

Behold this year’s great anti-sumer movie. The latest from Anton Corbijn (Control, The American) and more importantly, one of a bittersweet farewell series for Philip Seymour Hoffman, is for all of us who need a resort to harrowing bluntness and a break from all of summer’s bravura, optimism, and things at which we’re supposed to laugh (and a lot of times don’t).

A Most Wanted Man, adapted from John Le Carre’s 2008 novel, puts us in the middle of an exceedingly bleak post-9/11 Hamburg, where illegal Chechen/Russian Muslim immigrant Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) has come to claim his father’s illicit fortune and start a new life.

When Issa shows up on the doorstep of the family of a Muslim boxer and his family, they seek the help of Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), a radical lawyer who promises to listens to Issa’s story and promises to help him collect his father’s fortune.

Issa’s arrival in Hamburg isn’t unnoticed by both German and U.S. security agencies, led in investigation by Gunther Bachmann (typically excellent Hoffman), an operative who heads a small unit of spies that focuses on Muslim terrorist activity in Hamburg, where the 9/11 attack plans were formulated. It’s not long before Issa, and, in turn, Annabel, are on their radar.

While Issa is stationed safely at a safe house, Annabel is captured by Gunther’s squad and accused of terrorist sympathies. Gunther knows she’s “crossed a line,” but he also begins to believe in Issa’s good intentions.
By letting Issa manipulate his financial accounts with German banker Thomas Brue (Willem Dafoe), they can work toward pinpointing his motives without throwing Issa entirely under the bus with American officials.

A risky plan, it’s met with skepticism by others in the spy scene and the CIA.

Corbijn takes awhile to get the movie on its feet, at first riding an apparent line between intellectual enigma and spy-movie developmental cliches.

After a shaky opening, though, Corbijn works the vast complexity of Andrew Bovell’s script to perfection, letting the movie burn slowly and letting you get lost in the best kind of way.

Cinematographer Benoit Delhomme masterfully creates the film’s subtly incendiary atmosphere, capturing both the glamour and dirt of Hamburg’s brooding landscape in a way that is as disorienting as it is beautiful.

The acting --all of it -- demands discussion. Dobrygin, relatively new to the American movie industry, is remarkable as Issa. It’s a performance that charts Issa’s development from damaged goods to conflicted man struggling in the new world in a way that has both harrowing bluntness and an encapsulating enigma.

Dafoe and McAdams, are, though quietly, first-rate as well, with both delivering excellent performances without revealing immediately why they’re so good.

As a whole, that’s A Most Wanted Man itself. It’s a movie that’s silently devastating. There are moments that Corbijn tricks you into thinking that nothing is happening at all, and then reminds us that we are witnessing small-scale apocalypse. This is more than just a spy thriller. It’s a first rate, exceptionally smart take on post-9/11 affairs that lets us subjectively observe, but also be torn by the implications at hand. There are no car chases or shootouts, and there’s minimal humor to loosen things up -- it’s cold, hard drama that means to leave you shaken, and does.

Above all, though, the obvious highlight of the film is seeing Hoffman in his last leading role. He nails every nuance and scales the range of humanity and emotion in a way that we can only expect. It may not compare to his work in The Master or Doubt, but it is an inspiring and fitting reminder of Hoffman’s genius.   

For that, A Most Wanted Man is a must see.

Erie Reader: Vol. 6, No. 20
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