A Most Wanted Man

Year 2014

Grigoriy Dobrygin as   Issa Karpov
Philip Seymour Hoffman   as Günther Bachmann  
Homayoun Ershadi as Abdullah
Rainer Bock as Dieter Mohr
Nina Hoss as Irna Frey
Vicky Krieps as Niki
Willem Dafoe as Tommy Brue
Robin Wright as Martha Sullivan
Director - Anton Corbijn
Screenwriter - Andrew Bovell
Novelist   - John le Carré

I'm still not sure who A Most Wanted Man was supposed to be in the movie. This is a spy movie based upon the book of the same name by John le Carré. Only now instead of the KGB in le Carré's earlier works, you've got Chechens.

The plot is straight-forward enough. British (I think) agent Günther Bachmann (Hoffman) is operating in Hamburg, Germany. He and his team spot a Chechen who could be a terrorist. For Bachmann, it's an opporturnity to stop terrorism. He plans on using this Chechen Issa Karpov (Dobrygin) to hook a bigger fish and then use the bigger fish to hook a whale. The problem is that he's in Germany and must deal with American and German intelligence organizations who have their own agenda.

If you have never heard of John le Carré, then perhaps spy movies aren't for you. He's one of three Brits who defined the whole spy genre, the other two being Ian Fleming (James Bond) and Len Deighton (Harry Palmer and Bernard Sampson). But maybe you'll like the movie anyway.

Fleming's James Bond is flashy and a grandstander. Bond is a jet setter and a ladies' man and lives the life all guys dream of. Deighton's spies are salt of the earth and are betrayed so often that they're jaded. They're sarcastic and self-reliant as a matter of growth. Then there's le Carré's spies. They're still fighting the good fight but they'll betray anyone at a moment's notice. They work without any regard for the world except as their world relates to spies.

Le Carré's world is a grim, grey venue.

A Most Wanted Man is le Carré taking on the modern world of terrorism.

What's good about this movie? Philip Seymour Hoffman is excellent. I'm not really a big Philip Seymour Hoffman fan. In The Big Lebowski he did a good job of being the Big Lebowski's personal assistant. But his starring roles in Capote and The Master left me cold. Here, though, he's not perfect, but he is excellent.

A lot of the acting is well above average as well.

Another thing that's great about this movie is the pacing. Don't expect stuff to blow up every ten minutes or so. Expect things to proceed slowly. It's very close to the old spy movies from the 60s like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Another thing that's great about this movie is the pacing. Don't expect stuff to blow up every ten minutes or so. Expect things to proceed slowly. It's very close to the old spy movies from the 60s like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

The ambitious subject matter is also worthy of noting. The movie attempts to show how unreasonable the whole world, not just the United States, has become since 9/11. It attempts to illustrate this with the less than moral conduct of the spy agencies, the willingness to mentally try and convict people based upon circumstantial evidence, and the ineptitude of espionage agencies having to deal in an arena of hatred based on religion rather than geographical boundaries.

What's wrong with this movie? For starters, there's not a lot happening. Considering the low-key nature of the movie, you'd think that something might happen. There's the ending which is predictable but not much else.

Based upon the commentary in the special features that were part of the DVD, there was a lot happening with interpersonal relationships. The trouble is that one scene isn't enough for the viewer to discern the point of the writer and often all you got was one scene.

For example, there's one scene where Tommy Brue (Dafoe) meets Irna Frey (Hoss) in the lobby of the Atlantic Hotel. Supposedly, there's some sort of sexual tension on the part of Brue towards Frey. If anything, the scene is sterile so the connection between Brue's motives and his feeling for Frey is missing.

Also, supposedly, everyone but Bachmann has the hots for Frey. They say the words, but they don't like it. Well, maybe Issa Karpov (Dobrygin) does, but that's about it.

There are lots of characters in this movie, and they are all unique. But I'm not familiar with the actors or actresses. For example, I'd never heard of Robin Wright before. I guess I should have, since she was in Forest Gump and The Princess Bride, but I never did. Robin Wright's a fine actress.

The same can't be said of Nina Hoss. She's okay, but uneven. When she's strong, she's too strong when compared to the times when she's weak. Or maybe she's too weak compared to the times when she's strong. Either way, it's uneven and spoils the character's credibility.

The biggest problem with the movie is the rapidity with which things change. Considering how long this movie is, just over two hours, and the slow pacing, the scenes could have been chocked full of back-story or motivation or dichotomy. Instead, there are abrupt shifts and the audience is left to puzzle out the reason. Bachmann's a master, but why? His team operates on the periphery of the espionage network, but by whose authority? Bachmann has some odd unplaceable accent, but what nationality is he? What is the relationship between Brue's and Karpov's father?

Then who is the most wanted man? Is it Issa? How about Abdullah who is a front for a terrorist group? Or is it the person in charge of the terrorist group who is someone we never meet? I'm thinking that it's this last one.

Why are Chechens so bad? The November Man is another movie that talks about the atrocities of the Russians when they attacked Chechnya. In both that movie and this one, the Russians are the bad guys, but for some reason Issa is a potential terrorist.

A side note, part of My War Gone By, I Miss It So by Anthony Loyd gives a journalist's take on Chechnya. After reading the book, I admire the Chechens for what they accomplished.

The ending is pure le Carré but not nearly as moving as it should be because the characters are not developed enough.

No nudity but there's blasphemy and profanity. Chick flick potential is low. It's a modern day spy story that shows that no one is out to "make the world a safer place" and even those with the best opinions of their moral character stray to the dark side for the sake of expediency.

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