A Most Wanted Man (dir. Anton Corbijn, 2014) – In Hamburg, a Chechen Muslim’s illegal presence embroils him in the international war on terror.
As the mystery of A Most Wanted Man gradually unfolds, character dynamics prove intriguing.
A good spy story often risks allusions to modern politics. After all, there is far more tension to be had in a credibly grounded situation. A Most Wanted Man exploits current strains and prejudices, centring on a Chechen-Muslim Issa Karpov (played brilliantly by Grigoriy Dobrygin), whose little known history beclouds his motivations in Hamburg.
His entrance sparks the clashing interests of the German Government and the intelligence operative team of Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) – one sees risk in the other’s ambition. Opposing objectives spark off a game of deceit and manipulation. In the modern age of espionage and bureaucratic mistrust, the power struggle thrills with more relevance than ever.
Immigration lawyer Annabel Richter contrasts in her beliefs. She sees a person in Issa, where the authorities had only seen interest. Rachel McAdams takes on the layered role and she magnetises with compassion, solid persistence and astute intelligence. Willem Dafoe’s Tommy Brue is too a striking presence, treading light on the same swinging tightrope of morality.
Philip Seymour Hoffman shines before his co-stars. As with his usual performances, his final leading role is one to linger. Rarely does an actor know to enter a character so completely, that we are able to immerse in every riddle of his cagey being.
Every sharp word and hesitation between reveals his shadowy guilt. His intensity places weight to the simplest of actions, reminding us that his presence will surely be missed on screen.
Guided by a precise script, the performance-driven film A Most Wanted Man subtly critiques the international war on terror with respect to John le Carré’s novel. The only slight taint is its meandering and uneven pace that costs patience.
It is possible to feel lost early in a fairly simple plot, presented as a large puzzle piece that takes its time to unravel. But rich and complex characters captivate with intrigue, making up with a pay-off with lasting impact.