“A Most Wanted Man” – a film Review by Gary Chew
John le Carré’s 2008 novel, “A Most Wanted Man,” is now a movie. It’s your last chance to see the great Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the lead in a feature film. That alone is reason enough to see it.
Le Carré stories are dense and sometimes schematic, but don’t let that scare you away from watching Hoffman play a post 9/11 German spy. Although it falls into much the same mold as “Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy,” “A Most Wanted Man,” breathes better with a more vibrant cast. Along with Hoffman, there’s Rachael McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright and a lesser known but talented German actor named Nina Hoss.
The film is set in Hamburg where the 9/11 plot to attack America began its metastasis. German Intelligence, in the company American and British espionage agencies, has begun giving much closer attention to Hamburg since 9/11.
Simply put — if one can describe any le Carré yarn as such — “A Most Wanted Man” is all about “following the money” while duping another party — or set of spooks — to unwittingly do all the hard work “making the world a better place.” Dissecting how that works in this film from Dutch director Anton Corbijn would take all the “fun” out of it for you. So let me suggest that close attention be paid to what occurs and what is said among the characters in this engrossing, cerebral thriller.
On the lam, a half-Chechen, half Russian young man appears in Hamburg’s Islamic community seeking asylum. German and American spooks aren’t sure whether Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin) is an escaped prisoner bearing the marks of torture on his back, or a terrorist with visions of IEDs in head.
Issa connects with a man called Brue, a local Hamburg banker played by Dafoe. Aided by a liberal-minded young attorney called Anna (McAdams), Issa claims there’s lots of money in Brue’s bank that he (Issa) should rightfully inherit from his deceased father who was an officer in the Russian military.
All the while, Günther Bachmann (Hoffman), who appears to be a Master Sergeant of sorts for the Hamburg spy detachment, acts as the motivating and impressive “mortar” that propels and binds the various characters together as the narrative unfolds.
Martha (Wright) is CIA, and looks like she might be following in the steps of Rachael Maddow in so far as fashion and hairstyle are concerned. Wright’s part is small but important. Another brief role is that of Erna (Hoss). However one says “Girl Friday” in German is what Erna is to Bachmann. “A Most Wanted Man” would’ve played more interestingly had there been more simultaneous face time for Günther and Erna.
In English, Hoffman acts his Günther in a perfect German accent, speaking wry witticisms. He dresses slovenly and smokes at least two cartons of cigarettes during the running time of the film. Günther appears to be recovering from a professional SNAFU committed during an earlier assignment in Beruit. You’ll have to wait for that.
Bachmann takes the same reason for being a devout and unrelenting spy that his CIA friend Martha professes, “To make the world a better place … isn’t that enough?” And according to recent news accounts, that, coincidentally, is enough to make German Chancellor Angela Merkel as angry as Günther finds himself.