A Most Wanted Man

A Most Wanted Man ★★★★

A slight but important film, Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man has the distinction of containing one of Philip Seymour Hoffman's final performances. As a send-off for the late actor, and as a low-key spy thriller, the movie works remarkably well. Hoffman plays Gunther Bachmann, an accomplished German spy involved a complicated operation amidst the war on terror. As in Corbijn's previous film, The American, this movie takes its time in a slowly unfolding and morally ambiguous plot--and letting the viewer connect the dots. It's a strategy that forces you to pay attention as you get accustomed to the world in which these characters live.

The story revolves around Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) , a Chechen Muslim and son of a deceased Russian general who arrives as a refugee in Hamburg. With the prospect of inheriting his father's vast fortune, it's not long before he catches the attention of Hoffman and his elite crew of spies. Aside from capturing the day-to-day banalities of modern espionage, this movie depicts the moral relativity of the war on terrorism very well. A lot of time is spent on establishing Issa's complicated past and his relationship with his war criminal father. When he first appears, it's genuinely mysterious as to what his motivations really are.

Gunther understands what kind of person the young Karpov is, but he doesn't hesitate in using him as a minnow to catch a barracuda. Brushing against his superiors and American intelligence officers, he struggles to achieve some genuine victory to make the world safer. But as he finds out, his superiors prefer immediate P.R. victories to actual long-term success. I don't know if Hoffman's German's accent is accurate, but it's perfect for the character. He's believable every second as the weathered but extremely competent spy, and it's really something to see the glimmerings of a genuine conscience (more than anyone else in the movie) beneath his rough exterior.

The slow pace and cryptic plot seems frustrating at first, but Corbijn mines actual tension over exactly when things will blow over. As you realize more about the danger involved, you'll wait on the edge of your seat for things to go horribly wrong. It leads up to a shocking, revealing ending that has real pathos to it as well as a pertinent political message. Hoffman's work in the final scene is perfect--some of his best work, as he gets across the intense preparation and frustration involved in Gunther Bachmann's work.

Hope to see this film get some more exposure, because this actor, this director, and this story are definitely worth it.

Cody liked these reviews