Most Wanted Man, A (2014)

Review #1,071

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
Awards:  -
Runtime:  122min
Rating:  NC16 for language.

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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