A Most Wanted Man

A Most Wanted Man ★★★½

Director Anton Corbijn’s adaptation of John Le Carré’s terrific novel manages to fix nearly every minor gripe I had with it, yet still somehow manages to be less vital, while still intriguing. Set in contemporary Hamburg—a city on perpetual guilty high-alert as a result of being the place where Mohammad Atta coordinated the 9/11 attacks—it follows German intelligence operative Gunther (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as he tries to use an immigration/civil-rights attorney (Rachel McAdams) and a banker (Willem Dafoe) to nail an escaped Chechen man suspected of terrorist ties. The fact that the suspect is probably innocent is made clear fairly early on, as the narrative turns him into a pawn in a story about competing philosophies of how best to prevent terrorist attacks: Gunther’s firm belief in courting human intelligence vs. the idea that you just play hardball and round up the usual suspects. At least that’s what it should be about, and the film effectively builds up Gunther’s role as a “handler” while cutting most of the distracting sub-plots involving who’s romantically attracted to whom. Yet as effective as Corbijn is at building low-key tension surrounding as simple an act as whether someone will sign a document or not, it still feels like we’re missing more of the petty turf wars and chest-puffing that become impediments to—as characters phrase it here, practically with a roll of the eyes—“making the world a safer place.” Every facet of the story on screen is expertly crafted; only the sense of the bigger picture falls ever so slightly short.