Less is more – For those that have ever wondered, it doesn’t take a lot of money to make a quality film. With a good script, decent cast and location, what might have been deemed as a bad idea can quickly become a story worth following if given the right platform. For “A Most Wanted Man,” that platform was the Sundance Film Festival where it premiered and quickly became a topic of conversation thanks to gutty performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman. I don’t know what the budget was for this film, but after watching it, I can honestly say every penny was spent in the best possible manner.
What’s it about? Based on the John le Carre novel of the same name, the story here follows German intelligence agent Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as he attempts to build a network of sources within the Islamic community that will help take down future terrorist cells in or around Hamburg. Turns out the port city was the site where terrorists like Mohammed Atta planned the 9/11 attacks, so naturally intelligence operatives like Bachmann have been on edge ever since. So when word got out that a half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant by the name of Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) had arrived and was taken in by a local family, Bachmann took notice. Especially when he also found out that they had connected with human-rights attorney Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) to help Karpov access a family inheritance. Always looking at the big picture, Bachmann wanted to lay back and study Karpov to see where all this might go, a strategy that had served him well. Only issue there was, it put him at odds with local and American intelligence groups which wound up creating a cluster when it was finally time to act.
Who was in it? I’ll admit I only went to see this film because it was Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final leading performance. He was so raw in virtually anything he did and this was another example of that. Speaking with a German accent, Hoffman showed that range he always had, yet didn’t always get credit for. I believed everything his character was attempting to accomplish here and at times was caught up in the drama unfolding, forgetting I was watching Philip Seymour Hoffman. That’s the essence of great acting and pretty much what you got each and every time with Hoffman during his career. So, I was glad to see it on display one final time, as he really anchored this cast in a big way. A cast that also featured William Defoe and Robin Wright, who each managed to show us something new. For Defoe, that was shocking as he always has appeared to be the same guy, no matter the film or genre. But, here he was a bit more subtle and I liked it. But, the true dark horse to this cast was Rachel McAdams, who like Hoffman sported an impressive German accent. For an actress you normally see in romantic comedies, it was nice to see her flex some dramatic skills for a change.
Filming at cost – With so much money being thrown around these days for the next big blockbuster, it’s refreshing to see a smaller film use its budget to capacity. But, apparently that’s director Anton Corbijn’s mantra, as I vaguely remember saying the same thing after watching his last film “The American.” Both films have a certain artistic look and style to them which you may or may not like. The focus tends to not always be in the places you expect, but I like that and think it works for this type of story. That’s all Corbijn who really made a point to use long shots in order bring the audience in. This worked both inside and outside, as Corbijn used every inch of Hamburg turning what would normally look drab into something colorful just by the way it was shot. Like when Philip Seymour Hoffman would pull out a cigarette and light it. The focus on every detail of just that simple action let you into Hoffman’s character even more. The film just had an older feel to it thanks to all unique places within Hamburg that Corbijn chose to shoot against. He clearly likes to film outside a lot which probably stems from his photography background and work shooting music videos. Those two things are assets and play a role in how his films look. Nothing seemed over the top and overall the entire film was about as ‘raw’ as it gets. So, even though the plot was fairly shallow at times, it still managed to surprise you with all the angles and twists to it, especially at the end.
Bottom Line – While “A Most Wanted Man” won’t make too many moviegoer lists, it’s still a film worth seeing because of Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s the reason I went and wrote this review, for it reminded me of his tremendous talent and why his loss will be felt for a long time.
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