Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: First Trailer For Tim Burton's 'Big  Eyes' Starring Amy Adams And Christoph Waltz Watch: First Trailer For Tim Burton's 'Big Eyes' Starring Amy Adams And Christoph Waltz 'Deadpool’ Spin-Off With Ryan Reynolds Is Finally Green Lit, Set For A Winter 2016 Release Date 'Deadpool’ Spin-Off With Ryan Reynolds Is Finally Green Lit, Set For A Winter 2016 Release Date First Look: Cobie Smulders & Guy Pearce In Andrew Bujalski's 'Results' First Look: Cobie Smulders & Guy Pearce In Andrew Bujalski's 'Results' 10 Films We Haven’t Yet Seen That May Be Serious Oscar Contenders 10 Films We Haven’t Yet Seen That May Be Serious Oscar Contenders Exclusive: Matthew McConaughey Won’t Be Back For ‘Magic Mike XXL,’ Director Says Sequel Will Be “Very Different” Exclusive: Matthew McConaughey Won’t Be Back For ‘Magic Mike XXL,’ Director Says Sequel Will Be “Very Different” David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 2 ‘The Good Listener’ Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 2 ‘The Good Listener’ Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Review: Spy Tale 'A Most Wanted Man' Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams And More

Photo of Cory Everett By Cory Everett | @modage July 23, 2014 at 6:01PM

As the line between television and film gets blurrier, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish exactly what makes something qualify to be a film at all. Particularly in the age of “Homeland” and “The Americans,” some may leave a slow-burning, understated spy caper like “A Most Wanted Man” wondering if it wouldn’t have been better served as a limited series on Netflix or HBO. And it will be a perfectly valid question. Based on the novel by John le Carré (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”), the film is the new anti-thriller from director Anton Corbijn and centers on the war on terror in Germany via a tapestry of several characters, chiefly Gunther (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a grizzled counter-terrorist intelligence officer stationed in Hamburg after a previous fuck up in Beirut.
5
A Most Wanted Man

As the line between television and film gets blurrier, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish exactly what makes something qualify to be a film at all. Particularly in the age of “Homeland” and “The Americans,” some may leave a slow-burning, understated spy caper like “A Most Wanted Man” wondering if it wouldn’t have been better served as a limited series on Netflix or HBO. And it will be a perfectly valid question. Based on the novel by John le Carré (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”), the film is the new anti-thriller from director Anton Corbijn and centers on the war on terror in Germany via a tapestry of several characters, chiefly Gunther (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a grizzled counter-terrorist intelligence officer stationed in Hamburg after a previous fuck up in Beirut.

A Most Wanted Man

Gunther and his small covert crew of operatives are tasked with keeping tabs on Muslims in Germany after, as a title card informs us, one of the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks had been living there while they were being planned. Throughout the film we follow Gunther and his team as they clandestinely track Issa (Grigorly Dobrygin), a young Chechen Muslim recently illegally immigrated to Germany who they believe may have a menacing agenda. Issa, an ex-prisoner whose back bears the scars of some serious interrogation, wanders the streets with the requisite incognito terrorist-looking hoodie/beard combo until he is taken in by a sympathetic Muslim woman and her son.

While the camera tracks his every move, it’s unclear if he’s really up to anything sinister or just trying to avoid further persecution. A mysterious letter puts him in contact with Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), a lefty lawyer for a human rights organization who takes him under her care and who also becomes the target for Gunther’s team. The plan is to use Issa as bait in order to ensnare larger targets but they risk losing the entire operation to worried Berlin bureaucrats and an impatient American government, led by Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), who want to step in.

A Most Wanted Man

Deeply weathered, Hoffman is in ultra-haggard mode here, swigging scotch and chain smoking cigarettes, but also quite a charming beast with a few moments that really bring the character to life. He’s also maybe the only American member of the cast who can pull off a somewhat credible German accent. (Things are not quite as successful for McAdams or Willem Dafoe, who plays a serpentine banker.)

Authenticity isn’t necessarily a key factor in the film’s enjoyment but without it, you are just a bit more aware that these actors are all just playing dress up as spies. Corbijn’s previous film, “The American,” was another genre reversal, sold as a hitman thriller, it was actually more of a '60s European arthouse film with long takes and an icy, contemplative mood. One might’ve expected a similar tone here but despite a measured pace and decided emphasis away from traditional thrills, tonally it still hews much closer to a Euro-“Homeland” than to “Blow-Up.” The problem isn’t quite that the film is short on thrills (there is a paucity; the first adrenaline racing sequences don’t arrive until about an hour in), it’s that it’s not quite a character piece either.

A Most Wanted Man

There are hints at deeper relationships between the characters, particularly between Hoffman and Nina Hoss (who plays his second-in-command, Erna Frey), but unfortunately we don’t get to see enough of it and emotionally the film’s chilly tone keeps us at a distance. Had "A Most Wanted Man" focused intently on the peculiar lives of this team of spies, it would’ve been easier to accept in place of your typical spy stuff. But with only two hours for everything to unfold (though it can feel longer), we are only allowed brief glimpses (even Daniel Brühl is reduced to basically playing wallpaper with headphones here).

Since the expectation has increasingly become that stories on the big-screen have to be big, it’s interesting to ponder where that leaves a film like this “A Most Wanted Man.” Like all of Corbijn’s work, it is incredibly handsomely produced—the cinematography by Benoit Delhomme (“Lawless,” “The Proposition”) is typically gorgeous—and it has the feel of a tense and moody European caper, but the whole thing feels a bit slight. Not as arty as “The American” or “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” or as soapy and quickly paced as its small screen counterparts, “A Most Wanted Man” is left somewhere in the middle. The finale stings admirably but you can’t help but wonder what happens next week. [B-]

This article is related to: A Most Wanted Man, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, Daniel Brühl, Anton Corbijn, Reviews, Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates