Spies lie, deceive, seduce, betray, torture, and kill…..for what? To create a better world, to neutralize evil, to satisfy their need for power, to express their patriotism, to do their job, to…. A Most Wanted Man grapples with the question of motivation while making it clear that every motive by every person is to be distrusted. WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW.
This is not the stuff of James Bond. It is not glamorous. The characters are ordinary looking. The action is slow, at times plodding. But the film is gripping.
A Most Wanted Man takes place entirely in the grey streets of Hamburg where the sky is always clouded, the waters filmy, and the colors bleached out- a city on high alert ever since the Hamburg Cell which was the springboard for the attacks in America on 11 September 2001. The greyness represents the moral ambiguity that permeates the actions of the “heroes” in the narrative.
It is only after the tense, terrible climax of A Most Wanted Man - a betrayal as brutal as it was inevitable - that the realization that the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is gone hits you because you miss him right away as he walks quietly off screen.
Hoffman stars as Günther Bachmann, a rumpled, heavy drinking, significantly over-weight, chain-smoking, worn out German who oversees a covert anti-terrorist unit in modern-day Hamburg. The actor lives and breathes the man.
On the surface, at least, the most wanted man of the title is a bearded young Chechen, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), who pops his head out of the Elbe and steals into the city, on the run. He is a suspected Islamic militant, and Bachmann needs to track who he meets, and where he goes. The al-Qaeda plotters behind 9/11 worked, undetected, in Hamburg more than a decade prior to the attack, and Bachmann is determined to see that no new terrorist cell operates on his watch. As it turns out Issa is a tortured victim brutalized in Chechnya by Chechnyans and Russians and then sent to Turkey to be horribly imprisoned. As the film unfolds it is clear that he is a sad, tortured…innocent man trying to do some good.
Before this is know, Gunther using tradecraft and tough interrogations, along with members of his team find and follow Karpov, who finds shelter with a Turkish woman and her son (who also fall victim to the circumstances having done nothing but be charitable), and to an idealistic lawyer for a human rights group whose mission is to find safe haven for refugees.
There is a banker who must be played to release funds to be given to a Muslim doctor/humanitarian who may be siphoning off donation money in such a way that it becomes arms for terror cells. Gunther’s goal is to create a long standing and trustworthy channel providing information about potential threats.
Gunter’s closest colleague is Irna Frey who anticipates his moves, shares his whiskey and has moments of keen quiet like a lover. But she is not. She and he go home to lonely apartments and even her loyalty will be questioned by the films wrenching close. And there are the female CIA Bureau Chief and the head of the Security Division in the German government whose motives are the most mixed and whose decisions are the most painful in their effect.
Unseen, but ever-present are the terrorists who are real and constantly menacing. What are the governments of Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States to do to keep their homelands safe…apparently anything they think they need to. In the last moments of the film, we are left wondering what Gunther will do next given the turn of events. I left convinced, that despite it all, he would be at his desk the next day.
A Most Wanted Man may not be in the same class as 1965's The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (Richard Burtons tour de force) or The Constant Gardener (the Oscar winner for best film of 2005), but it's an intelligent and absorbing watch, and it leaves us wishing we might get another chance to see Hoffman work his on screen magic again. The plot intrigues and the cast excels.
At Rotten Tomatoes: 91 Percent of 121 Critics Rated it Fresh; 71 percent of the audience liked it. At MetaCritic: Three and a Half Stars out of Five.I give it a 4.0 out of 5 for overall movie experience and a 4.5 in the spy genre.
Cross Published at Daily Kos, Yabberz, and PlanetPOV.
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