Saturday, July 26, 2014

Review: A Most Wanted Man

Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions.
Anton Corbijn's "A Most Wanted Man" is a moody thriller that, at the very least, gives us an opportunity to see the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman one more time. But the picture, based on the novel by John le Carre, is also a subtle, ambiguous thriller that provides no easy answers.

Hoffman plays Gunther Bachmann, a German spy who understands how to seek out and capture his targets better than his bosses, who are primarily concerned with making arrests for the sake of headlines. As he puts it, "it takes a minnow to catch a barracuda and a barracuda to catch a shark."

In this film, the minnow is Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a Chechen national who has stumbled into Hamburg and may or may not be involved with terrorist activity. The barracuda is a prominent Muslim man whose donations to worldwide charities might possibly also fund Al Qaeda activities. Issa enlists the help of Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), a lawyer sympathetic to his cause who attempts to assist him in obtaining a $10 million inheritance left by his father through a bank executive named Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe).

Gunther and his team - who must grudgingly comply with a CIA agent (Robin Wright) - track Issa and Annabel and eventually get the latter into their custody, occasionally using methods that might be frowned upon in some circles. Wright's CIA agent ensures Gunther that such tactics are necessary to ensure that the world becomes a safer place, but it's unclear whether he completely agrees with her.

The picture is only partially a character study since we primarily watch all of these folks as they go about their daily work, but it's also only somewhat a thriller. "A Most Wanted Man" is a procedural that raises questions about how nations conduct the business of keeping citizens safe, but does leaves them dangling in the air for us to answer.

Hoffman's performance is a restrained one, but that's what is called for here, while screenwriter Andrew Bovell and Corbijn, who also directed the Joy Division biopic "Control" and the thriller "The American," makes the characters' true motivations and personalities a shade ambiguous, although Gunther's true thoughts on how to run the war on terror become pretty evident during the surprising climax.

This is a thoughtful espionage thriller. There's hardly any violence and the intrigue comes mostly from how characters decide to play their cards, making it suspenseful without actually being a potboiler. It's an understated genre film in a season typically bereft of subtlety.

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