It’s always interesting to see how written works are translated onto the big screen, especially if the story or novel is huge in size or complicated in its story and characters. When it’s done right, it can be a visually stunning compliment to the original written works. A Most Wanted Man, based on the novel by John le Carre, is a great example of how a dark and dirty world of spies, anti-terrorism units and competing governments doesn’t always translate well to the movie world, no matter the talent involved.
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Gunter Bachmann, a very rumpled and weary German intelligence operative operating out of Hamburg. He is part of an organization so off the books and buried so deep under layers of secrecy it allows them to investigate and prevent security threats as they see fit. Gunter leads this group with a shrewd and calculated toughness that is needed to make the hard decisions, leaning on past failures as both motivation and lessons learned.
Events are set in motion when a half-Chechen, half-Russian man named Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) crawls out of the waters surrounding Hamburg and seeks asylum, piquing the interest of Gunter’s group and many other government agencies, including the CIA led by Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright). As Gunter tries to determine whether Karpov is really a threat, he gets a civil rights lawyer named Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) to help him in his quest for asylum.
The plot soon thickens and spreads, involving a shady religious leader/benefactor Faisal Muhammad (Homayoun Ershadi) who may be siphoning off money to al-Qaida and a seemingly shady banker Tommy Brue (William DaFoe) who apparently has a larger inheritance awaiting Karpov.
If the plot is beginning to sound a little convoluted, I am happy to say that director Anton Corbijn’s strength in this movie is to keep the story moving but not buried in too much red tape as to lose the viewer along the way.
At this point, most of the important characters have been introduced and the game really begins. Actually, in the world of espionage the game is always afoot but for the sake of the movie, things begin to move in a very fluid motion.
I began to feel a little sorry for Karpov and Richter, who seemed to be treated as no more than pawns in the giant chessboard of the spy world, with Gunter acting as the grand master. Using his years of experience, Gunter puts a plan in motion to catch what he thinks is the bigger fish, only to have the bureaucracy of competing agencies interfering with his every move.
If only things were that simple.
A Most Wanted Man is full of solid acting, with the late Hoffman leading the way. His chain smoking, booze drinking figure doesn’t look intimidating but Hoffman’s talent to show the man’s inner strength and smarts is great to watch.
The problem does not lie with the acting or for that matter, the story or even directing. All aspects of this film are done quite well. The movie just never seems to build up any real momentum and comes off as too clinical and stale.
Even though Corbijn gives us a great look at how things operate behind the scenes, it is really nothing we haven’t seen before. Characters spend too much time smoking, drinking and staring off in the distance while pondering their next move. While this may be accurate, it becomes a little tiresome after awhile.
This movie might not have knocked it out of the park, but at least it tried hard to give us some high quality cinema. Watching Hoffman was bittersweet, and yet another reminder of what a talent he was. It’s just a shame that the movie as a whole couldn’t rise to his level, leaving me feeling unfulfilled and a bit disappointed.
+ Another great performance by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman
+ Overall cast is solid and believable
+ Great look at the world of spies and the life they lead
- Film never really jumps up and grabs you
- Story is too dry and clinical, almost going through the motions at times