A Most Wanted Man (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions, R)

film most-wanted-man_75Like the other le Carré adaptations, the film can be somewhat convoluted, but for once it is also engaging enough to make going back to it not seem like a chore.

 

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Though I’ve not yet read any of his novels, in the past few years I’ve seen a number of film adaptations of John le Carré’s works, such as Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or Fernando Meirelles’ The Constant Gardener. They’re all twisty, dry, and somewhat complicated spy/intelligence/grown-up pictures, and are all of the sort that you need to see more than once to fully untangle. This is an attribute I love in films; the problem is that I haven’t found any of the le Carré adaptations compelling enough to invite me to come back to them, and get to the bottom of some of the plot points I didn’t initially follow.

Anton Corbijn’s new film A Most Wanted Man breaks this streak. Like the other le Carré adaptations, it can be somewhat convoluted, but for once it is also engaging enough to make going back to it not seem like a chore. The film is set in Hamburg, Germany, considered a hotbed for potential U.S. terrorists after 9/11. Our main character is Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a German agent hoping to use a recent illegal Muslim immigrant, Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin), to get to more superior and threatening potential terrorists. 

Bachmann is being pulled from all sides, though. His plan is to let Issa roam free, and unknowingly lead them to bigger threats, but many others are content to take in Issa and make it look like they’re doing their job. Meanwhile, there’s a German girl named Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) who takes it upon herself to provide aid to Issa, whether he’s a terrorist, a potential terrorist, or not.

Bachmann, his team, and their methods are the main focus of A Most Wanted Man. In the early part of the film, you’ll have an easier job of following the action and who’s who and why they’re doing what they’re doing if you have a working knowledge of contemporary German stars, such as Nina Hoss or Daniel Brühl, as that will make them more recognizable when they pop up in the background in soft focus.

It seems like this film would be a master class in acting, given that it stars the deeply (and rightfully) beloved Hoffman, and the two aforementioned recent le Carré adaptations yielded one Best Supporting Actress Oscar win and a Best Actor nomination. And to a certain extent, A Most Wanted Man is a very well-performed film, but probably not in the way you expect. The biggest pleasures for me were Dobrygin as Issa and the members of the German cast, particularly the great Hoss (she’s primarily known in America for being Christian Petzold’s muse, starring in Barbara and Yella and the upcoming Phoenix), where both Hoffman and McAdams fell somewhat flat. I’m not entirely sold on either’s German accent, both of which seemed to fade in and out, and neither performance was as convincing as one would hope. This all seems especially odd, given that I rarely have anything even halfway negative to say about Hoffman.

A Most Wanted Man is Hoffman’s last non–Hunger Games movie. Coupled with God’s Pocket from earlier this year, these last few releases of his are not of the caliber I would wish, given that he is probably his generation’s single greatest actor. (By my count, his last truly outstanding performance was in 2012’s The Master.) Still, while he might be somewhat disappointing in A Most Wanted Man, “somewhat disappointing” for Hoffman is still miles above the best most other actors can do. The movie around the performance is pretty good, too (unlike God’s Pocket), so in the end, this is a worthy endeavor, if not a crowning achievement, in Hoffman’s career. | Pete Timmermann

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