Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Sacha Baron Cohen Reportedly Returning To Write, Produce, Star In & Direct The Freddie Mercury Biopic Sacha Baron Cohen Reportedly Returning To Write, Produce, Star In & Direct The Freddie Mercury Biopic Watch: James Bond Is Back In First Trailer For 'Spectre' Starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, & More Watch: James Bond Is Back In First Trailer For 'Spectre' Starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, & More Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join Watch: Explore The Loneliness Of Sofia Coppola's Films With This Supercut Watch: Explore The Loneliness Of Sofia Coppola's Films With This Supercut 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' Watch: Trailer For 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' Unrated Blu-Ray Edition, Will Also Feature An Alternate Ending Watch: Trailer For 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' Unrated Blu-Ray Edition, Will Also Feature An Alternate Ending New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki 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.


Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

E-Mail Updates