A MOST WANTED MAN (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
– Gunther Bachmann (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) to Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe)
Understated, sober, methodical, cerebral, pushy, impetuous, perilous, straightforward
Excellent lead castings (Hoffman, Dafoe & Wright)
Another good adaptation to a Le’ Carre novel.
Miscasting of Rachel McAdams
Lack of energy for long parts of the movie
Lack of momentum at times
Plot ‘spins its wheels’ at times
WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
A half-Chechen, half- Russian, (Grigory Dobrygin) brutally tortured immigrant turns up in Hamburg’s Islamic community. He is coming to claim his father’s mob money, with both German and US security agencies, led by Gunther Bachmann (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Assisted by American agent Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) they race to establish the man’s true identity between a broken man looking for asylum or an a Islamic radical with extremist ties to a larger terrorism network.
WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
The movie is based on John Le Carre’s 2008 novel with the same name. The novel is a critique of then U.S. President George W. Bush’s foreign policy treatment towards all alleged suspicious targets or persons of interest globally. It casts the United States as this Machiavellian seek and destroy behemoth war ship in which it will do anything to capture, persecute and abuse all resources and allies as Bush mandated capturing “the evil doers”. Also this movie is Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s last role prior to his ill-fated death earlier this year. Like ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ Le Carre’ gives a balanced narrative skeleton to the film adaption in that we are experiencing, voyeuristically, real and tangible insight to the prosaic world that spy cartels operate in.
Typically when it comes to spy thrillers the audiences are used to certain clichés – convoluted plot to man on the run narrative to trust no one self loathing capped off by clandestine action with ham-handed assuredness that the protagonist will eventually wade through the double agent bullshit, win big and get the game’s high score. To this movie’s credit it doesn’t go that route. What is most awarding about this movie is that ‘A Most Wanted Man’ is probably the most objective spy film that I have ever seen. It lays out a very balanced presentation of each character, their respective roles, and how it all comes together without blatantly patronizing the viewer to lean towards defined roles automatically associating with America the good guys, while the rest of the world – bad guys! Typically spy movies play on your inherent allegiances that you bring with you to a movie (such as any Vietnam war movie or a character that went rouge and is now the target); you are given a pre-determined protagonist to follow and from that point you travel with the character as they work out their trust issues while keep his or her head on a Jason Bourne like swivel. Thankfully this movie doesn’t do that. From the outset we are interested in our “Most Wanted Actor” Seymour Hoffman. He is an intelligent wrecking ball of a man that will get what he needs and how quickly he wants it. He is the king of the mountain in this movie as he works his subordinates tirelessly, manipulates his moles, and emotionally browbeats his captives while also playing footsies with American agent Martha Sullivan (Wright). The movie provides a whose who of notable actors such as Willem Dafoe as the international banker to Issa’s father’s money, and Rachel McAdams as the plucky yet naïve German Human Rights attorney fighting for Issa’s asylum. Of all the cast, McAdam’s was the hardest to swallow. She wasn’t convincing in her role as the aforementioned attorney. It’s hard to take McAdams seriously, no matter how hard she takes seriously herself or the role. She is suitable in parts where she can unleash her nasty side as long as it fits within the character, that looks like her if she was playing derivation of a Rachel McAdams like character. That's not to say she has to play herself like Jennifer Aniston, but roles where you expect her playing someone that is a version of herself, such as Regina George in 'Mean Girls' or Owen Wilson’s fiancé in 'Midnight in Paris.' It’s not a stretch for her to relate to those particular roles. This is not to say McAdams doesn’t have substance because she clearly does, but as an attorney that needs to fight for her client? Never do we get the feeling that Issa is in protective hands with her, especially with the Lion of the spy jungle Bachmann on the prowl. Regardless of this, Willem Dafoe was truly the most rewarding actor in the movie. As stated before he plays an everyman type international banker that is in trust of Issa’s father’s money. Dafoe normally plays characters where danger is always lurking behind his unique face but his approach towards others is brimming with a seething gentility, but misleadingly as he can only do us a favor by holding it back. In this movie, Dafoe still carried those same natural traits but it was the subservience that his character demonstrated at almost a willful yet unnerving accommodation towards Bachmann that I have never seen from the actor before. For the better part of the movie he is an order taker that neither wants to give in to Bachmann but at the same time doesn’t want to let him down either.
This is the first scene where you get a glimpse as to what kind of people Bachmann and Richter are, and how they are complete opposites politically, professionally and emotionally. Richter is trying to give Bachmann Issa’s intent and motivations, and Bachmann is trying to convince Richter otherwise. None of the characters in the movie know what the true case is with anyone, but are driven completely on trust towards Issa (Richter) but also mistrust against Issa (Bachmann). This is the first scene in the movie’s plot that we the audience, having the full picture, know exactly where each person stands. This makes our view from the vantage point that no one is classically good or bad, just objectively doing what they feel is right.
'A Most Wanted' is, at the end of the day, fool’s gold. It’s acted credibly, filmed studiously and crafted technically accurate and because of that a viewer may say “I’m not moved by this movie emotionally but because everything seems real, therefore this is a good movie” and that is not correct. Yes, this movie provides a good causeway to marrying the book’s ether and merging it to celluloid with an important pay off at the end. I found myself however more times than not being disinterested of the whole contrived Richter and Issa co-dependency passive aggressive relationship. Furthermore there is nothing notable about this movie aside from the fact that this was Seymour Hoffman’s last role. Granted Le Carre’s books are good source materials but this movie doesn’t have an academy award winning highlight like Gary Oldman’s transfixed performance in ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ or its atmospheric cold war moodiness. What’s ultimately missing in this movie, when it comes to this genre, is masterful intrigue. Unfortunately, there is not a whiff of that in this film to complement the workman like stoic direction, screenplay, style and tone thus giving a feel of another boring day at the spy office.
2.5 out of 4