A MOST WANTED MAN (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 1 minute

MPAA Rating: R for Language

MostWanted poster

Directed by: Anton Corbijn

Written by: Andrew Bovell

(based on the novel A MOST WANTED MAN by John le Carre)

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Derya Alabora, Daniel Bruhl

How far are you willing to go to ensure that the world is a safer place? This difficult question has been tackled many times in plenty of dramas and thrillers. A MOST WANTED MAN (based on the John le Carre novel) is a crucially relevant spy story that leaves the viewer wanting to have a serious discussion afterwards. The film also serves as a farewell to one of the most remarkable actors of this generation: Philip Seymour Hoffman. Though I cannot predict the possibilities of any Oscar nods (it does deserve some sort of recognition come awards season), this brooding thriller is a remarkably subtle piece of work that packs a huge punch in making the viewer question what the outcome will be and keeping the more probing scenes in their thoughts for some time after.

A MOST WANTED MAN, Philip Seymour Hoffman, 2014. ph: Kerry Brown/©Roadside Attractions/courtesy

Hamburg is the German city where the September 11 attacks were planned and this has kept authorities on high alert. Gunter (Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last leading role) is the head of a private team that does things German law cannot. Upon the arrival of an illegal Chechen-Russian immigrant, Gunter’s team takes an interest in the mysterious man. His name is Issa Karpov and his family has known ties to jihadists. It’s up in the air as to whether this new visitor comes in peace or is secretly activating terrorist plans. Gunter is highly suspicious and goes to lengths in order to discover what Issa is up to and possibly use those around him to uncover a bigger terrorist at work. This involves a lawyer (Rachel McAdams), a banker (Willem Dafoe), and an American agent (Robin Wright) being manipulated for the greater good, but will Gunter be successful in his pursuit and at what cost?

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A MOST WANTED MAN can be broken down into a single sentence. It’s a film about people using each other in different ways. Those hoping for a spy thriller packed with car chases, gun fights, and explosions would do well in sticking to JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT. WANTED MAN is subtle and comprised almost entirely of conversations. It’s story of talking heads where decisions have lives hanging in the balance. The film is beautifully constructed in the writing, the acting, and just about everything else you can think of. When a story is so intense that a man sitting at a table signing documents has you on the edge of your seat, then you know that there’s something special about it. One thing that may slightly throw off viewers is that characters are juggled and there are a handful of them to keep track of. It may almost be like a chore in remembering who’s who and how they’re connected to one another, but it becomes easier after the first third and very rewarding in the final act.

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Hoffman delivers a brilliant final performance as a complex character. It’s not easy to feel for Gunter. Despite his mission being about saving people’s lives, he comes off as heartless and his methods are questionable. However, I actually cared for him by the end of the film as little touches reveal that he does have humanity, but it’s hidden down deep inside of him. Robin Wright and Daniel Bruhl have rather thankless parts, almost the length of a brief cameo. Both their characters do serve different purposes and it was nice to see talent even in the tiniest of roles. Grigoriy Dobrygin is a Russian newcomer, but makes a big impression as Issa. The man keeps you on edge wondering where his loyalties lie in a performance that is an integral piece of the story working as well as it does. Willem Dafoe is excellent as a banker with his own set of personal problems. It is in Rachel McAdams that I had seen a faulty performance. She’s not awful, but her German accent randomly turns itself on and off. This wasn’t a not a huge distraction, but it’s a crack in a damn near flawless film.

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When watching A MOST WANTED MAN, I felt that there were only two possible ways this movie could have ended and that might detract from my overall enjoyment of it. However, the film took some twists and two possibilities quickly turned into four. Then a fifth option that I didn’t even consider or see coming hit the screen in an emotionally devastating conclusion. Few endings have left me speechless and this is one of them. I hesitate to even mention the movie that this ending vaguely reminded me of, because it might be too much of a spoiler. So I will say that it left me with a whole lot of mentally digest. I was provoked. It got a reaction out of me. I’ll be pondering over it for days and loving every second of it.

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After finishing A MOST WANTED MAN, I felt like I had just read a fantastic novel and wanted it to continue. The movie picked touchy subject matter and brought it to the screen in a very compelling way. It’s a mystery that will lead to plenty of interesting conversations from those who have watched it. Philip Seymour Hoffman has gone out on a fine note and the movie is amazing on its own. A couple of cracks come in Rachel McAdams magical accent and the juggling of characters that takes a little while to get used to. The film never once did anything I expected it to. It was completely unpredictable every step of the way. Don’t go in expecting action and stalking scenes. Walk in expecting a movie full of probing matters and conversations, a film filled with ethical dilemmas and complicated characters, and a mystery that will hook you and leave you in shock. I loved this film!

Grade: A

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