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article imageReview: ‘A Most Wanted Man’ revives the espionage film’s essentials Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jul 25, 2014 in Entertainment
In the complex and captivating ‘A Most Wanted Man,’ a German intelligence agent heads a counter-terrorist investigation that embroils an uneducated illegal immigrant. This is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final role as a leading man.
The espionage film and the spy thriller are different sides of the same coin. One is slow and deliberate, while the other is rousing and action-oriented. A person may like one and not the other. Think Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy versus a James Bond picture. A Most Wanted Man is best compared to the former: evenly paced and detail-oriented.
Since 9/11, the German intelligence agency has been under international supervision; so when they get a fish on the hook everyone knows and wants control of the reel. Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has been working with an informant (Mehdi Dehbi) to gather evidence against Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), a man under surveillance and suspected of funding terrorist activities. After months of work, Günther's team knows what he's doing but lack the required evidence to prove it. In the meantime Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a young man of Chechen Muslim descent, attempts to illegally immigrate to Hamburg with the help of a social worker (Rachel McAdams). When it's discovered he has a large inheritance of which he wishes to relieve himself, Günther finally gets the opportunity to trap Abdullah. But an American agent (Robin Wright) is beginning to keep tabs on their progress, which could be beneficial or tear the whole thing apart.
Counter-terrorism is not all bloodshed and high-profile targets. Yet it can still be stimulating when committed to the screen with skill behind and in front of the camera. Director Anton Corbijn began his career shooting documentaries featuring famous musicians before branching out to make Control, a biopic about Ian Curtis, the enigmatic singer of Joy Division who took his life at 23. Having gotten a taste for fiction, he followed it up with the mediocre crime thriller The American, starring George Clooney. However, returning to a more thoughtful pace seems to suit the filmmaker’s talents. Corbijn doesn’t attempt to forcefully inject superfluous drama or excitement into the narrative, but rather lets the inherent intrigue adapted from John le Carré’s novel draw the audience closer to the material.
Of course casting Hoffman in the lead role is not a coincidence either. What will further be known as the actor’s last major role (though he does still star in the upcoming final installments of the Hunger Games trilogy) will also be known as one of his best cinematic performances. Most of his obituaries lamented the loss of an unmatched talent and this picture only accentuates the point. Not to overlook the outstanding performances in the film from those also mentioned above, but Hoffman rightfully steals the show. For two hours, he is fully invested in this meticulous investigation that requires precise direction and carefully shaped relationships. The casualness with which he utters the phrase, “I don’t trust you,” yet packs it with such history and suspicion is magnificent. Though Hoffman’s swan song is played too soon, it is a worthy send-off.
Director: Anton Corbijn
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams and Grigoriy Dobrygin
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