So going into this film, I had not yet realised that this would be the last film I would see Philip Seymour Hoffman in outside of the last two Hunger Games films. It is strange to think that, despite his death early in the year, his works will continue to come out until 2015.
Despite this being a film which, until the passage of time will mean people will either forget or merely not mention it, Hoffman’s death will be closely associated with how it is viewed, I shall attempt to put further undue kind words aide and review this film as it were any other. Death does not make a great film, great people do.
A Most Wanted Man is based upon the novel of the same name by John le Carré which is set in Hamburg which, after the 9/11 attacks which were planned in Hamburg, security has been considerably increased. Into this new and wary world steps the illegal immigrant Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a Russian-Chechen Muslim seeking help which he receives from immigration lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams). Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his team, who are set up to monitor local Muslim activities, find through Russian intelligence that he is considered to be a terrorist.
However Bachmann sees Karpov not as an opportunity for an immediate takedown, but as a means of getting to the source of terrorist activities. Bachmann hopes that by using Karpov, he can get onto a chain of much larger threats, starting with the outwardly charitable Dr. Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), whom he suspects of trafficking charity money for terrorist activities. However, with German security official Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock) and American diplomatic attaché Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) taking interest in Bachmann’s case, Bachmann must keep them at arm’s length in order to catch a much bigger fish.
Credit must be given to Jina Jay for her role in casting A Most Wanted Man as, in the most part, the actors are of the same nation which their characters are from (e.g.: Germany, Iran, Russia). Yet, while the choice of two prolific actors in the form of Hoffman and McAdams may add a power to the film, it does seem to run contrary to the films ethos of having like play like.
However, at least in regard to Hoffman, the breaking of this ethos seems to have paid due dividends. Although I have not read the original novel, and thus cannot say how Hoffman’s portrayal would have transitioned well for audience members see a different character in their head to what’s on the screen, I shall say that, in spite this ignorance, I am willing to venture that Hoffman did the part justice.
While spy-thriller films bring to mind sequences of James Bond or Jason Bourne slyly getting information before shooting everything in sight and breaking limbs of those who do not get shot, Hoffman gives Bachmann a realism that is so little seen nowadays with films making spies almost like supernatural powers.
Hoffman, despite his lumbering frame and mild black coffee addiction, makes Bachmann feels like a genuine spy, even down to the well done German accent. Hoffman allows us to see through Bachmann’s eyes on the world after 9/11 and how security has changed in consequence to it. Yet, despite this age of fear and kneejerk reactions; Bachmann is more focused on the bigger picture rather than what is in his immediate sight, which gives Bachmann a sense of sanity in this slowly actions first world. It’s a great change compared to the usual spy films that are out there to have one that feels grounded in reality rather than hare-brained schemes by madmen to take over the world.
Hoffman’s talent in making Bachmann seem calm and collected in using a suspected terrorist in order to get someone higher on the food chain may not have been handled as well in other hands, thus highlighting talent that need not be greatly highlighted. Yet, while I would not say this is Hoffman’s defining role in any sense, I would say it is a great case study of his talents.
Yet this is where the great talent seemingly ends. While it is a joy to see McAdams out of rom-com roles, like About Time, The Notebook, The Time Traveler’s Wife etcetera, etcetera, you get the feeling that this role could have been filled by (insert pretty young actress here) in the same way Natalie Portman could have been replaced in V for Vendetta.
There was no strong presence about her character and, while she played the role well and made no mistakes, it did not feel like she made the role her own like Hoffman did. Yet I hope this does not stop her from doing these roles as, although I highly suspect she will read this review, she does have talent as yet unmined in these different films roles which given time should reap some reward.
Even the supporting cast did not have great amounts of time to establish their characters in a two hour movie. At times, scenes with Hoffman and Wright felt almost shoehorned in to help the plot move along and to give Wright’s character the needed screen time. Hoffman’s team felt they were just there to add other humans for Hoffman to bounce off of and, while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it sometimes does have that feel of relegating talented actors for two stars.
However to make this point to harshly I feel misses the point of the film as, while it is about a team effort to get a trapped lured for suspected terrorists, it is a vehicle for Hoffman to allow the audiences to see how he differs so much from security forces of the day. It is a critique, much like the book, on how small goals can never yield big results something which Hoffmann portrays brilliantly.
The films tone is also one of great suspense. While having never seen a film of Anton Corbijn, I must give credit to the director for knowing how to keep an audience’s attention. Corbijn allows the films to build slowly, following the case step by step which keeps you wondering what will happen next. Will the terrorists attack? Will the German or American security forces pull the plug on Bachmann’s operation? Is Bachmann on a wild goose chase? All these questions are whizzing around your mind, absorbing you further into the investigation and the cajoling and coercing that goes along with it.
However it must be admitted that, while the film can keep an audience captivated, it would be foolish to say it would keep everyone in such a state of tension. The slower pace, while making you more invested in the step by step feel of the film, may not be enough for every audience member.
They may be expecting some brawl or gunfight or some form of violence to act as a breather from the intrigue. Aside from one chase scene, A Most Wanted Man does not really have this. This is not really a criticism of the film itself as, what it does it does well, it is just an acknowledgement that for it may not be a universally liked film because of the way it is done.
But in the end, while I would not suggest you all to flood the high-street or Amazon to buy it on release, I would most certainly advise you to go to the cinema and watch it. Its slow atmospheric pace, alongside a strangely captivating use of methodical espionage and Hoffman’s performance makes for a delightfully, yet subtlety, tense experience that would most merit a second viewing.
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