REVIEW: A Most Wanted Man is a Precise and Moody Curtain Call for Phillip Seymour Hoffman
by Daniel Schindel
The bulk of the planning for the September 11th attacks did not take place in an Afghan manse or a Saudi backroom — it happened in an apartment in Hamburg, Germany. Contrary to what the public may think, terrorism is not Middle Eastern, not even Islamic terrorism; like everything else in the 21st century, it is globalized. The international movements of dissidents, fundamentalists, and criminals, as well as the social, political, and economic forces that influence them, all intersect at major ports like Hamburg. At the beginning of A Most Wanted Man, a title card informs the audience of how the city remains a hotbed of anti-terrorism attention more than a decade after 9/11.
Stumbling onto this stage is Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a Chechen-Russian and recent convert to Islam who’s hoping to escape the persecution and torture he endured in both of his home countries. He immediately draws the attention of multiple intelligence agencies, including a black ops group headed by Günter Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Günter is particularly drawn to how Issa stands to inherit millions in Mafia money, and thus believes him to be the perfect bait with which to catch prominent philanthropist Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), whom he suspects of financing terrorism. But Günter, a cautious, patient, big-picture-thinker, is at constant odds with his superiors and his American colleagues, who want to bring Issa in as soon as possible. Caught in the middle of this clandestine push-pull are Issa’s lawyer, Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), who wants to help him inherit his money and legally settle in Germany, and Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe), the head of the bank that holds the inheritance.
A Most Wanted Man is the latest adaptation of a book by John le Carré, who remains one of the most sociopolitically perspicacious writers of fiction 50 years into his career. Like much of his work, the story blends elements of fact (drawing on the case of Murat Kurnaz), fiction, and his personal experience in the espionage business (le Carré was a SIS agent and British consul in Hamburg at one point) in the service of a devastatingly on-point message about the failings of the institutions that are supposed to safeguard us.
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