Movie Review: "A Most Wanted Man"
Director Anton Corbijn’s homage to the spy genre, “A Most Wanted Man,” features an excellent performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman. Although the film moves too slowly and is dialogue-heavy, it keeps the classic style in which the plot is defined by words instead of action.
In “A Most Wanted Man,” based on John le Carré’s (“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”) novel of the same name, Hoffman (“The Hunger Games”) plays Gunther Bachmann, the head of a counterterrorism unit in Hamburg, Germany. His character is blunt and vulnerable, afflicted by his addictive habits and fellow agents he has lost.
Hoffman showcases his sterling acting talents in one of his last films. Hoffman slips into a German accent effortlessly. Most of the great lines in the film are his.
The film’s plot is easy to follow. In post-9/11 Hamburg, the city where the bombers conspired, Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin, “How I Ended this Summer”), a half-Russian, half-Chechen fugitive linked with terrorists, suddenly becomes the focus of German and U.S. government investigation. Issa’s character is an enigma, but his motives become clearer as the film progresses. Simultaneously, Bachmann scrutinizes Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi, “Zero Dark Thirty”), a renowned lecturer who ironically denounces terrorism – his “Seven Friends Shipping Company” is believed to be a front for Islamic militants.
Issa and Faisal’s paths touch as the former seeks to purge himself of all memories of his father by washing his hands of his “unclean” inheritance. Bachmann’s unit wants to use Issa to lead them to Faisal’s inevitable replacement.
Rachel McAdams (“The Vow”), in a supporting role as a German lawyer named Annabelle, isn’t up to par. Her accent moves from American to German multiple times, and she can’t carry her weight in most scenes with Bachmann and the “wanted man,” Issa. But when Annabelle is interrogated by Bachmann and given the choice to help Gunther spy on Issa or remain in captivity, McAdams does an excellent job of reacting to Gunther’s questioning and the dilemma presented before her.
For a film billed as a riveting spy thriller, some would expect more intrigue and less build-up that simply culminated in more intricate spy work. At times, “A Most Wanted Man” feels like a drawn-out series of perseverating exchanges and meticulous espionage, some of which were not entirely needed, but they are representative of Carré’s work. The cinematography is beautiful, showing a bird’s eye view of Hamburg as well as wide-angle shots of the city’s streets and people.
Hoffman is superb and Dobrygin is also a rising talent. He displays the inner conflict in Issa in a cathartic scene when Issa is compelled to cut his beard to avoid detection. But for a movie with such great actors, including Robin Wright (“House of Cards”) in a supporting role, some would honestly expect more. Philip Seymour Hoffman puts on a great performance, but he can’t carry an entire film.
For Hoffman and Carré fans, this film is a must-see. But for those who are not drawn to slow-paced spy movies, you would be better off watching a film with more suspenseful action.
“A Most Wanted Man” (R, 122 min.) will be released at Landmark Bethesda Row and E Street locations on Friday, July 25.