A Most Wanted Man


Release: Friday, July 25, 2014 (limited)


As all good things must, even A Most Wanted Man comes to an end.

And it’s going to take everything in my power to remain on the conservative side here, what with a possible capstone performance to mark the end of a career as towering as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s. Trust me when I say experiencing the final moments of this film is no easy task; that is, if you hold any empathy for the troubled man at all. That’s not to say we won’t be seeing him around in other things, of course. He’ll reprise his role for The Mockingjay: Part 1 this November, and he’s also turned up in the lesser-known 2014 drama God’s Pocket.

But in A Most Wanted Man, here’s where we are obliged to bid adieu to that more significant part of a once-in-a-generation performer. The celluloid here acts as a time capsule, in which Hoffman seems permanently encased. Selfish for us to try, sure, but it’s such a great performance there’s no way we can let this be over. Eventually we’ll have to.

In a somewhat befittingly stressful turn as Günter Bachmann, the leader of a secretive intelligence operation based out of Hamburg, Germany, Hoffman becomes involved in the (mis)handling of a young half-Chechen, half-Russian illegal immigrant named Issa Karpov (an incredible Grigoriy Dobrygin) who’s fleeing from torture and persecution in both his home countries. Bachmann’s methods are not attuned to those maintained by his peers, particularly the snaky Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock) and his office’s roughneck tactics, and Bachmann holds a particular disdain for the Americans given a situation in the recent past. Pale, disheveled and with a cigarette permanently glued to his lips, Günter is the perfect enigma for Hoffman to decipher.

That the film does not become a sideshow to the real-life tragedy involving one of its cast members is almost miraculous. This will be the last of Hoffman’s lead roles, and while proximate his death, his work still remains relatively unaffected. He does, however, look physically exhausted in a number of scenes. But rather than directly confronting us with his sickly appearance, the film uses it for context, making great use of Hoffman’s tired expressions and measured delivery to express an epic character. His physique immediately conjures a lifetime of struggles.

In Anton Corbijn’s film, perspective taints objective reality. We spend our time with this rag-tag group of German intelligence operatives (whose casting includes the likes of Daniel Brühl and Nina Hoss) but does this mean this is the right side of the tracks to be on? Who really ought to be dealing with this suspected terrorist? Is that precisely what Issa is, a terrorist? What could have become an overwhelmingly complex and dense narrative instead is surprisingly simplified without cutting out critical details — the scarring on Issa’s back is very telling of a dark history and helps cement his nightmarish reality.

Highly compelling material adapted from the novel by John le Carré is distributed evenly and effectively across the film’s myriad talented stars. Willem Dafoe steps in as Tommy Brue, the head of a German bank which may contain funds to be inherited by Issa from his father, a man he claims to have raped his mother in front of him when he was much younger, and when Mother was a mere 15 years old. (Again, despite the crowd-pleasing flavor of the thrill, one thing A Most Wanted Man can’t be accused of is glossing over pertinent stuff.) Robin Wright matches her intensity in House of Cards and continues to affirm her spot in the upper echelons of great thespians with a spectacular performance as CIA Agent Martha Sullivan, who comes to Günter’s assistance when he needs it least. Or so he has determined.

A Wanted Man is a fiercely accurate rendering of real-world events unfolding in a period as hectic as the last ten years have been, both in the Middle East and on a global scale. A fictitious account of one man’s journey through bureaucracy in a desperate investigation into what his real identity is — is he terrorist blood or an innocent civilian trying to escape oppression? — here’s a story that at least demands an open mind.

While we revere this strange German’s effectiveness at his duties, it is safe to say we revere the man behind the man more. If all good things have to come to an end, Hoffman’s story has come to a very good ending indeed. He is hands-down the reason to watch this film, and in a masterpiece such as this, that’s relatively high praise.


4-0Recommendation: One of the very best films of the year, not just as a genre film or from a performance-standpoint, A Most Wanted Man is an excellent way to spend $10. For the Philip Seymour Hoffman fans (of which I believe there are at least one or two), for the Robin Wright fans, for fans of excellent adaptations of books (supposedly. . .I would now like to read this book). For anyone wanting relevance to the ongoing ideological struggles amongst the myriad countries ensnared in violent turmoil in the Middle East currently, and between them and a United States government that insists on making everything its business, you are compelled. . .nay, required to watch this film. It is that good.

Rated: R

Running Time: 121 mins.

Quoted: “We find them. When they’re ours, we direct them at bigger targets. It takes a minnow to catch a barracuda, a barracuda to catch a shark.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

28 thoughts on “A Most Wanted Man

  1. Pingback: The 2014 DigiBread Awards | digitalshortbread

  2. You’ve been handing out full pies a lot lately dude. You must have a ton of money to spend on a shitload of ingredients….but anyways, I’ve never heard of this. However, a cast like that certainly means that I should. Along with your score. Along with McAdams. Along with an intriguing story. Along with a greatly written review. Along with McAdams. No, my repetition is not a typo!

    ..Does not sound like she is heavily involved though!


    • McAdams factors in appropriately, or so I thought. Everyone was placed on this chessboard so well, man. I absolultey fricken loved this movie. It’s going to be hard for me to really defend it in a couple weeks’ time when I realize that a lot of it is to do with PSH’s loss, but in reality there’s a lot to really think highly of here. It’s a spy thriller done right!

      It’s perhaps not deserving *quite* of the 8/8, and ironically I’ve really been making an effort to stiffen up the rating scale by handing the 7’s and 8’s out less but so far i’m failing hahaha


    • Hehe. I think a little hyperbole on DSB is healthy every now and. . . now. Haha. I just realized that every now and then wouldn’t be appropriate, since I frequently seem to get this way when I see a solid film.

      Is it an absolutely PERFECT film? I’m not entirely sure on that. From an enjoyment perspective this is freaking top-shelf, though. And it’s rigged with a host of incredible performances. If that gets the blood going for you, keep your sugar intake to a minimum before you see this.


  3. Are you implying that PSH’s performance was somehow foreshadowing his death? I really don’t see a connection between the way he played this character, which was completely appropriate given his background, and a drug overdose some time later. Just another solid turn from an actor who quietly owns everything he’s in, from my perspective.


    • I think u read it backwards, I was meaning to suggest that it’s very strange now, knowing that he’s gone, that this is how his performance seems now. His Günter is an incredibly complex, deep person with clearly some issues, but you can also at the same time tell PSH is physically not that well in some of the scenes. But he uses that sickliness to make his performance better. It’s all just circumstantial.

      I hopefully explained the point a bit better there. 🙂


    • As it does me my friend. It’s truly an awful, inconceivable loss. Watching this film is a bittersweet process, and — so what if it influenced that big fat juicy pie? Hahah this film is also really damn solid. I hope you get to see it soon and i’ll be interested in reading your take on it.


  4. Wow, great review, I can imagine this is a moving experience. Like everyone else I’m a massive PSH fan so I’ll be looking out for this.


    • I’m glad to hear you’re excited man, you have every right to be. This movie is fan-fucking-tastic Fernando. I somehow doubt it will get a Best Pic nom, but a posthumous Best Male Lead Performance for Hoffman is certainly not out of the question here. He’s insanely good


    • As you should be sir. I know I haven’t made your wait, however long it is, any easier, but my goodness this is a fantastic film. I cannot wait to read what you have to say about it.


  5. Glad you approve. I almost picked up the book to read first before the film, but I didn’t think I’d have time to read it. I love PSH as well as Robin Wright, so your review solidified my hopes that the film would rise to the occasion. 🙂


    • I’m glad Cindy. Thank you for taking the time to read this review, I think the movie is absolutely outstanding and the book just might have to be a must-read for me sometime soon. I sadly fall so far behind on reading actual books b/c reviews and some other internet readings usually get in the way. I need to stop letting this happen! 🙂

      If you like PSH and Robin Wright, I think this movie will work for you.


      • Good luck! When I was younger, before internet, reading was easy. Now, my time is claimed by various internet “stuff” and I find I long for books. It’s become evident as the years roll by how important reading a story is compared with watching one.


      • Very well said and I’d agree. Both are completely different experiences and both are totally different stimulants in the brain. 🙂


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