Film Review: A Most Wanted Man (UK, USA & Germany, 2014)


A Most Wanted Man is an espionage thriller about terrorists. But despite this genre, the film contains no explosions, gun battles or high-tech special effects. Instead, it has more in common with The Ides Of March, in that it is a tense and dramatic labyrinth of power plays where rivals with competing agendas use political strategies to hoodwink the other players in the “game” and these people could be your friend, foe, predator or prey.

The film is an adaptation of a John le Carré novel with a script written by Andrew Bovell. It is also directed by renowned rock photographer, Anton Corbijn, who is also known for having directed the fabulous Ian Curtis biopic, Control. There are certainly some similarities between the gritty gloom of A Most Wanted Man and the dark melancholy of the film about Joy Division’s front man. The score to A Most Wanted Man also uses the same sort of intense, atmospheric tones that the Manchurian group were known for and the setting – industrial Hamburg – shares a lot in common with the band’s Northern English hometown.

Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in one of his last roles in this film and is formidable and engrossing as Günther Bachmann. This slow and nuanced film is really carried by this accomplished actor who plays a chain-smoking, hard-drinking German intelligence agent. Bachmann is smarter than he looks and is determined not to repeat past mistakes. He is also a member of a secret intelligence cell, which was created in the aftermath of September 11 after it was revealed that some of the key players had been living in Hamburg prior to the terrorist act.

The wanted man in this film is Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a tortured asylum seeker who is half-Chechen and half-Russian. He winds up being taken in by Hamburg’s Islamic community after he arrives in Germany and looks to claim his father’s vast inheritance. It’s unclear whether Karpov is being unduly oppressed because he gives the impression that he wants to give the money away to Muslim charities. The German and American intelligence agencies, however, remain unconvinced and think this is an affront to donate funds to Islamic militants.

Karpov meets Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) who is a sympathetic human rights lawyer. She helps Karpov meet the dodgy banker (played by Willem Dafoe) but both are eventually used as pawns in Bachmann’s game. The American actors playing German characters is an interesting mix that doesn’t always work as their accents are often muddled and contain twangs of their native tongue.

A Most Wanted Man is hardly ground-breaking material and at times it suffers from being too bogged down in the facts and figures relating to the spy game. It would’ve worked better had some of this material been removed, allowing more airtime for intimate details about the characters (like their motives and feelings) to be revealed. Despite some flaws, A Most Wanted Man is ultimately a slow-burning mystery filled with intrigue, atmosphere and grittiness and shows an unsettling and anxious web of entanglement.


A Most Wanted Man opens in cinemas nationally on July 31.


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