The setting is Hamburg Germany where Mohammad Atta masterminded the 9/11 attacks. Into this mix we meet Günther Bachmann, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who runs a spy organization determined to capture would be terrorists, and save the world. Bachmann, we learn was double crossed many years ago in Beirut when his organization was compromised. The result from this was that his reputation was tarnished, as he took the blame.
“A Most Wanted Man” is a spy thriller with political ramifications. Issa Karpov,Grigoriy Dobrygin, is a young half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant. It is discovered that while he was in Russia he was brutally tortured. When he emigrates to Hamburg Bachmann’s group is suspicious of his motives. Is he a would-be terrorist, a victim of oppression within Russia or an Islamic extremist?
The characterization of Bachmann never surpasses the superfluous. The plot is intricately weaved yet we never get to know the characters themselves. To some extent this can be understood, as this is a spy thriller, and the point here is that people who work in this game, and the people they are surveying, are mere props within the story. For instance, we know that Bachmann is stressed because his is incessantly smoking. He huffs and puffs so much it is as if there is not enough oxygen in the room to contain him; beyond these superficialities though we know little.
Bachmann though is not the only player within the drama, although he is in almost every scene. After he becomes aware of Issa, so do the Americans. Robin Wright, Martha Sullivan, a CIA operative contacts him regarding what his plan is and what their long term intentions are. Following this a German intelligence group are among those in the know, and in turn applying pressure to Bachmann as to how he will handle the matter.
Anabel Richter, Rachel McAdams, a lawyer, comes to work with Issa. She learns that Issa’s father left him a substantial inheritance, and so the question then becomes, what will he do with the money? Will he use it to abet an extremist agenda, or to live a quiet life in Germany?
The plot surrounding this film is intriguing, yet the pacing is agonizingly slow. The machinations of how things are worked out are more often than not, predictable and sadly boring. The surveillance community is accurately portrayed here with the theme that no matter what they do, the ends justify the means being hammered into our heads through both words and actions.
What is the message here though? For all their pontificating, regarding the cost to humanity if they do not act, their words sound more like speechifying than something which comes from the gut. How can we care about the characters and the story they are portraying when we are given so little to work with? And worse, given the high quality of the cast and crew, it is not without cause that we should expect more.