Most Wanted Man, A (2014)
Director: Anton Corbijn
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Grigoriy Dobrygin
Plot: A Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg, where he gets caught in the international war on terror.
Genre: Drama / Thriller
Rating: NC16 for language.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
Effectively the last movie featuring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in a major dramatic leading role, A Most Wanted Man is not exactly one of his best films, neither does it contain one of his best performances. It is a good, but not spectacular effort.
Hoffman plays a head spy with a small, invisible network of counter-terror intelligence officers working in Hamburg, Germany. He does work outside of the radar, its effectiveness questioned by the German authorities, but his patient, wait-and-catch-a-bigger-fish strategy may potentially lead to a more important harvest.
Hoffman is joined by Rachel McAdams who plays a lawyer assisting illegal immigrants, and Willem Dafoe who plays a hot-shot owner of a bank. The performances are not bad, sometimes subdued in favour of emotions of acceptance and patience, rather than that associated with hard reactions.
But it is in the climax, a wonderfully thought-out sequence that surprises with its intent, yet retaining a measure of fatalism that elevates this film to a higher level that what transpired in the first ninety minutes doesn't quite seem to promise.
The story treatment is intriguing: A Most Wanted Man is not so much about apprehending a terror suspect, so as to, and I quote a line from the movie, "make the world a safer place", but rather to prove the suspect's innocence, and forge a close relationship in order to use him as bait to, well, catch a bigger fish. That's essentially Hoffman's gameplan, which is often at loggerheads with the authorities who demand effective, near-instant results.
Directed by Anton Corbijn, whose existential hitman spy-thriller The American (2010), heavily-influenced by Melville's Le Samourai (1967), impressed me, A Most Wanted Man forgoes thrills and spills for a more procedural direction. It is concerned with the modus operandi of a secret intelligence unit.
In other words, it isn't a James Bond movie, and those with that expectation will find Corbijn's work here a slow bore. Others will find it moderately engaging, which tells us that despite its intention, the film could have done with a tighter pacing, particularly in scenes involving McAdams and the terror suspect, and herself in an interrogation room.
A Most Wanted Man still retains some serious filmmaking vibes, and with Hoffman stealing the scenery on a few occasions, plus a terrific climax, this is worth a consideration to see.
Verdict: Could do with tighter pacing, this slow-burn spy thriller with a terrific climax has enough in the late Philip Seymour Hoffman to give it some measure of quality.
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