A Most Wanted Man

By on July 31, 2014
A Most Wanted Man

When a celebrity dies before their time, it’s a tough thing to take, especially when they’re someone as well-respected as actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who almost certainly would have gone on to who knows how many more excellent performances in a future had his life not been so sadly cut short.

While, on the plus side, he leaves behind an impressive body of work to entertain long after the sordid circumstances of his death, the fact is, there’s only so much left to savor before we’ve reached the end of his output, which makes “A Most Wanted Man” a bit of a bittersweet affair, no matter how you slice it.

In the film, Hoffman plays the sort of tightly-wound character he excelled at, and it’s impossible to watch it without thinking this is one of the last times we’ll get to see this literal “Master” at work. There’s this film, and the impending last two “Hunger Games” films, and that’s about it.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a German spy in "A Most Wanted Man," one of his final films. Courtesy of imdb.com

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a German spy in “A Most Wanted Man,” one of his final films.
Courtesy of imdb.com

So, in some ways, that makes this a bit of a tough watch in a way the “Mockingjay” films likely won’t be, given the limited participation of Hoffman in those films. Those films are the kind in which everyone involved is a cog in a much larger machine, whereas a film like “A Most Wanted Man” features Hoffman front and center for most of its running time.

Hoffman plays Günther Bachmann, a German spy tasked with keeping an eye out for potential terrorists post-9/11. Given that the attacks were planned in Hamburg, monitoring is on high alert there, even over a decade later. Anyone remotely suspicious is monitored fairly closely, and such is the case with Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin, “How I Ended This Summer”), a half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant who shows up there, looking worse for the wear.

Securing the help of human rights attorney Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams, a long way from “Mean Girls”), he’s there to secure an inheritance from his father, who has a decidedly sketchy background that Karpov may or may not share. Is he there to get the money in order to finance a terrorist outfit, or are his motivations less nefarious? Bachmann wants to take a wait-and-see approach, while everyone else has their finger on the trigger, gunning for Karpov’s immediate arrest.

Rachel McAdams plays an human rights attorney aiding an immigrant- and possible terrorist- played by Grigoriy Dobrygin in "A Most Wanted Man." Courtesy of imdb.com

Rachel McAdams plays an human rights attorney aiding an immigrant- and possible terrorist- played by Grigoriy Dobrygin in “A Most Wanted Man.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Thanks to an unlikely ally in American CIA agent Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright, taking a break from “House of Cards”), Bachmann is allowed a little leeway in postponing Karpov’s arrest, in order to see exactly what he’s up to, in hopes that it might lead to a bigger fish. Will the approach pay off, or will Bachmann regret not nabbing Karpov while he still had the chance?

Based on the novel of the same name by legendary spy-turned-author John le Carré, of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” fame, “A Most Wanted Man” is a tense, riveting thriller of the slow-burn variety.

It’s never quite as good as you hope it will be but is still worth the watch, especially if you like spy thrillers of this sort, or if you’re a fan of any of the cast, which also includes solid turns from Willem Dafoe (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”) and Daniel Brühl (“Rush”).

As it should be, Hoffmann is the star of the show here, as a heavy-drinking agent who’s trying to do the right thing while still delivering the goods in terms of the job at the hand. The ending is brilliantly played and almost single-handedly boosts the film into classic status, but the fact remains, if you’ve seen many films or shows of this nature, you probably won’t be surprised by any of the twists here.

More than anything, it sort of reminded me of a compressed version of the recent, short-lived AMC show “Rubicon,” which given that the show didn’t make it past a season, is not necessarily a compliment. I mean, I liked the show, and I liked this movie as well, I just wasn’t particularly blown away by it. The ending does bump it up a notch higher than “Rubicon,” which never quite got a big moment like this film does, but is it enough to recommend? It probably depends on whether this sort of thing is your cup of tea in the first place.

Robin Wright plays a CIA agent trying to help out Hoffman's spy in "A Most Wanted Man." Courtesy of imdb.com

Robin Wright plays a CIA agent trying to help out Hoffman’s spy in “A Most Wanted Man.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

To that end, I’d have to say, if you like your spy thrillers served slow and easy and methodically-paced, you’ll probably like this. If you like le Carré’s stuff, which also includes such previously adapted works as “The Tailor of Panama,” “The Constant Gardener” and “The Russia House,” you’ll also probably like this. And if you’re a Hoffman completist, you’ll definitely want to see it. All of the above types of people will likely give this at least a B+, if not an A.

I do like stuff of this nature, but I’ve also seen a lot better, so I’m going to go with a B+, but it’s definitely worth seeing for Hoffman alone. Others might go a little lower, according to taste, as it’s not exactly “The Bourne Identity”–nor is it trying to be. Either way, given that it’s likely the last juicy role we’ll see from Hoffman that hasn’t already been released, the “Hunger Games” movies notwithstanding, it’s still worth celebrating on the whole. It might not make your “Most Wanted” list, but it’s at least worth a quick look-see.

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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