The slogan “To make the world a safer place” resonates with haunting clarity in the espionage thriller, ‘A Most Wanted Man.’ When moviegoers think of spy films, the James Bond and Jason Bourne franchises come to mind. However, the reality of the spy game adapted from John le Carre novels feels more like the profession of an accountant than a dashing intelligence operative sipping martinis shaken, not stirred. No, in the covert world where ‘A Most Wanted Man’ takes place, counter intelligence officer Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) runs an elite German anti-terrorism squad based in Hamburg. Hoffman’s chain-smoking and booze-swilling character is compelling and makes it worth your time since it is sadly one of his last performances on film.
Gunther’s job is a thankless one. He is responsible for keeping tabs on Muslims in Germany. This is due to the fact that terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks actually planned it in Hamburg. The story quickly focuses on a young fugitive, half Chechen, half Russian, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) who shows up in the German port city of Hamburg. Maybe he’s on a terrorist mission or maybe not. What we do find out is that he’s looking for political asylum in Germany after being jailed and tortured by the Russians and Turks. The plot thickens when a human rights lawyer from a rich Berlin family named Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) gets involved in helping Issa. Her intentions become fuzzy and the lines begin to blur as we learn more about the case.
We learn that Issa’s primary reason for coming to Hamburg is to lay claim to millions of Euros held in a secret account at a local bank run by Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe). The fun in this spy caper is trying to figure out who is good and who is evil. This is not an action film. It goes into the nuts-and-bolts the intelligence community goes through to try to uncover the truth. If you enjoy spy thrillers like ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier’ that deal with characters talking a lot and revealing the intricacies of counterterrorist work, this story will not disappoint. Anton Corbijn is a patient director that enjoys showing the audience the meticulous details of intelligence work. The bleak worldview is enhanced through the dark grey hues skillfully displayed through the cinematography of Benoit Delhomme (One Day, Lawless).
The plot thickens like a cat-and-mouse game as Bachmann recruits the help of Richter and Brue to help lay a trap. It’s not to catch the smaller fish Karpov but to catch a bigger one named Dr. Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), a respected Muslin academic that is suspected of backing terrorist activity through the guise of donations. Robin Wright is good as a local CIA operative named Martha Sullivan who wants to step in to the annoyance of Bachmann. It perfectly illustrates the challenges between countries working for the same goal but hesitant to share too much information. One of the minor flaws of ‘A Most Wanted Man’ is the German accents. They are bad but as you get more involved with the story, you tend to ignore it as a minor distraction.
‘A Most Wanted Man’ is an engaging look at the shadowy world of spies. The real payoff is seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final roles on the big screen. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/OUyYBrlF_W8.