“A Most Wanted Man” (2014) is a sad homage to the great actor Philip Seymour Hoffman who tragically died at age 46. Hoffman’s performance skills are legendary. In looking through his filmography to select his best film I was only able to select eight rather than one as my favorite. If you haven’t seen the following films – make an effort to do so. “A Late Quartet,” (2012) “The Master” (2012,) “Money Ball” (2011,) “Charlie Wilson’s War” (2007,) “”The Savages” (2007,) “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (2007,) “Capote” (2005,) and “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999.) Hoffman was nominated for several Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards and others too numerous to mention. He did win an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award for his performance in “Capote.” Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Mr. Hoffman’s skill was his ability to perform in roles as varied as a Baseball Manager in “Money Ball” and a religious cult leader in “The Master.”
In his latest, and last released, film “A Most Wanted Man” Hoffman portrays Gunther Bachmann a clandestine and independent German intelligence agent. In his agency’s effort to “get the goods” on Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi) a too-good-to-be-true, Cumbiahish, peace-talking Muslim community leader Gunther becomes embroiled in serious interagency politics. Gunther suspects that Abdullah is a jihadist in sheep’s clothing who is surreptitiously channeling money to terrorist groups. Addullah raises the money in question through public speaking and community activities that appear to support peaceful coexistence rather than terrorist activities. Other, more strident, security agencies from Germany and the United States are also investigating Abdullah. Unlike Gunther, these operatives are willing to close-in on Abdullah without definitive proof of his supposed terrorist support activities.
The film opens with the literal surfacing of a suspicious figure in the waters of the Hamburg harbor. This apprehensive hoodied character is Issa Karpov (Grigory Dobrygin) who has made his way to Hamburg from Chechnya. We soon learn that Issa is a Muslin who has been tortured in his home country and has escaped to Hamburg hoping to gain asylum. His asylum case is handled pro bono by immigration attorney Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams.) Naturally, the case is not as simple as it seems. Issa is actually attempting to get ill-gotten wealth accumulated by his reprehensible father from a secret German bank account. His goal is to get this money into the hands of Abdullah to be used in antiterrorist activities. Issa is convinced that Abdullah stands for the good of the Islamic community while his own father symbolized the worst of the same community. When Gunther becomes aware of Issa’s intentions he sees an opportunity to trap Abdullah into misappropriation of some of the funds to terrorist front organizations.
Along the way Gunther must throttle the German authorities who insist upon rapid action in the
Abdullah matter. The American authorities are represented by Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) who attempts to deceive Gunther into believing that she is on his side. If you’ve seen “House of Cards” you’ve seen the duplicitous character Claire Underwood also played by Robin Wright. Wright has become the master of this malevolent persona.
The story line of “A Most Wanted Man” is convoluted. Without giving away the intended “shocking” conclusion of the story, I can tell you that it was neither shocking nor unpredictable. While the film is meant to be a spy genre thriller; it misses the boat. It is slow moving and ponderous in spots. Unlike other films of the genre it lacks excitement resulting from high speed chases, shoot-em up scenes and sex. Gunther is a German Columbo – an overweight, unmade bed of a man. While introspective, deliberate and thoughtful, he suffers professionally as the result of a wrongly earned reputation that resulted from a Middle East intelligence snafu some years earlier.
“A Most Wanted Man” is the film adaptation of John le Carre’s thriller of the same name. Philip Seymour Hoffman is very good as Gunther – any way you look at it, Philip Seymour Hoffman was a great actor.
The film, however, suffers from movie-land’s obsession with too many minutes in general and too much attention to a plot that could have been brought to fruition in twenty fewer minutes.