A Most Wanted Man

A Most Wanted Man photo starrating-3stars.jpgA Most Wanted Man is a dense, elaborate adaptation of the 2008 John le Carré espionage novel of the same name. The particularly timely subject matter concerns The War on Terror but the film will probably be best remembered as the final starring screen role of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Not surprisingly he turns in another stellar performance. He is truly missed.

As in all John le Carré novels everyone has an important part in the wide-ranging chronicle. The real focus of our tale is one Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) a half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant who seeks asylum in Germany after he is half beaten to death. As the son of a notorious Muslim terrorist he is heir to his father‘s wealth. The authorities have labeled him a militant jihadist as well. However his true allegiances are still a bit of an enigma. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Gunter Bachmann a German counterterrorist expert based in Hamburg. He heads up a secret intelligence team working within the Islamic community to stop radical organizations. He’s a hard drinking, unkempt sort, disheartened by his life experiences. Yet he remains an intelligent man guided by principle. He is still willing to pause and see the big picture first before rushing in to act. Rachel McAdams is Annabel Richter, a young German human rights attorney. She’s an altruistic type fighting in the interest of the downtrodden. Nonetheless, in Bachmann’s eyes she’s a social worker for terrorists. Also a foil to Bachman is corrupt British banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe) whose bank holds the fortune of Karpov’s father. Brue forms an association with Annabel and these two comprise a coalition of sorts with Karpov.

There are no good guys in A Most Wanted Man. There are decent people, yes, but they’re caught up in a maze of moral ambiguities that can compromise their ethics. It’s a dreary but well acted critique concerning a global military campaign in a post 9/11 world. The saga is highlighted by a plethora of memorable characters beautifully rendered with studious care as layered personalities. Like a chess game you never know what one person’s next move will be. The sympathetic becomes insensitive, the heartless becomes merciful. Everything comes to head when the rival spies of Germany, England and America converge in a climax that literally involves a man initialing papers at a desk. Of course the issue being addressed is deeper than that, but like most John le Carré stories, the narrative remains emotionally cold and the milieu is bleak. It succeeds despite an overworked set up that somewhat wanes in the middle. For a movie that runs over two hours, not a whole lot happens to be quite honest. At times it’s an indictment of bureaucratic incompetence. Nevertheless this carefully modulated character study ultimately ends on a powerful note.


12 Responses to “A Most Wanted Man”

  1. Excellent review. Short and succinct. These days when our summer films are comic book adaptions, cartoons, super heroes, and action films – I kind of liked this for for its quietness. As you say it is slow, and of course bleak – but, and I think we agree on this – well worth one’s time.


    • It is nice alternative to all the “comic book adaptations, cartoons, super heroes, and action films.“ Like a refreshing lemon sorbet to cleanse the palate in between entrees.


  2. I’m led to believe much of the acclaim for this one is out of bias, given that this is Hoffman’s last role. I’ll probably see this, but only for the performance. You’re right, he IS missed.

    Sent from my iPhone



    • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), The Tailor of Panama (2001) The Constant Gardener (2005), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). John le Carré adaptations always get a lot of acclaim.


  3. Wow. Haha. This line might be one of the finest you’ve penned, “. . .in a climax that literally involves a man initialing papers at a desk.”

    Then again, the hilarity might be a combination of me agreeing with the fact not a lot happens and, ironically, how much I loved this film. This certainly wasn’t the most eventful affair, but I was on pins and needles during the signing scene! You put it perfectly there though.

    Maybe sentimentality played a part in my perfect score, but I don’t know., There was also a great trick they played never allowing us to be certain who we really should be siding with. If, anyone at all. Is it the Germans. . .the Americans? Who wins this?


    • I liked the film and I totally get why you loved it. I was actually on pins and needles during that scene too. I was just being a little snarky.

      “This line might be one of the finest you’ve penned.”

      Oh go on…………No seriously, do go on. 😉


  4. Very slow and quite long, but I enjoyed it. Not Philips’ best work, but he a convincing accent. 3 stars


  5. I had a hard time getting into the more recent adaptation of John le Care’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so I have a feeling it might be a similar situation with A Most Wanted Man based on your description of its narrative as emotionally cold. However I think the performances in the movie might make up for some of that with me. I”m curious to see one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final roles, but I also usually enjoy Willem Dafoe and Rachel McAdams.


  6. I’ve just been to see this and really enjoyed it. I was worried it would be a snoozefest like Tinker Tailor or the equally slow and uninteresting The American, also directed by Corbijn. Thankfully though, the plot moves along nicely and although it is a slow burner, I was captivated from beginning to end. I know what you mean though about the ‘climax’!


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