A Checkan Muslim named Grigoriy Dobrygin (Issa Karpov) illegally immigrates to Hamburg, where we learn from an opening card was once the home of several 9/11 masterminds. The city has become especially vigilant since its worldwide embarrassment at having been seemingly unaware that a handful of the most dangerous terrorists alive were operating in its own backyard. Dobrygin gets the attention of Gunther Bachmann (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who runs an anti-terrorist unit in Germany (think of him as an out-of-shape Jack Bauer who doesn’t run, fight or torture people). What follows is a psychological cat-and-mouse game wrapped in political red-tape to find out if Dobrigyin has ties to larger terrorist organizations. Hit the jump for my Blu-ray review of A Most Wanted Man.
While the ingredients for a white-knuckle thriller are all present, those looking for a tense, edge-of-your-seat Bourne-style action film should look elsewhere. As with his last film, the luke-warmly received The American, director Anton Corbijn’s adaptation of John le Carre’s A Most Wanted Man is a subdued, international spy thriller more in tune with taking its time and getting its facts straight than it is with creating gripping setpieces. That’s not to say the film is bad; it’s smart, knows its material and clearly has something to say. But on the flip side, it lacks any sense of urgency. There are twisty plotpoints and new, interesting developments, sure, but ultimately the picture comes off as cold, clinical and distant. At times it feels more like we’re watching a filmed Newsweek article.
The movie understands the machinations of counterintelligence and espionage as only adaptations of le Carre’s work do, which is to say, better than anything else Hollywood produces. The author’s work seems more intent on stripping out a lavish, high-thrills Bond atmosphere and replacing it with overweight, weary men just putting in another day at the office. But whether or not an audience member passes this off as entertainment is strictly a matter of personal preference.
While the script’s investigative element lies in the anti-terrorist unit’s eye on Dobrygin, make no mistake, this is Gunther’s movie. And Hoffman’s endlessly watchable performance (highlighted by an impeccable German accent) hammers this home. As always, the late actor is a true chameleon; blending into his role without an ounce of artifice.
“Adequate” would be the word that best describes the look and sound of the movie. The film’s color palate is appropriately grey, reflecting its dark and somber subject matter. There’s a murkiness to the visuals of the film that very much echoes the politics Gunther and his team are forced to contend with. The blu-ray aids in this visual thematic – when a bright color does intermittently appear on screen, it really pops.
A pair of featurettes, The Making of A Most Wanted Man and Spymaster: John le Carre in Hamburg round out the disc’s extras. While these supplemental videos feel much like the fillers that they are, they do further capture the sense that the filmmakers were ultimately going for more of a deliberately-paced intellectual piece that could be condensed to a two hour running time and still capture the spirit and message of le Carre’s book.
What this film will most likely be remembered for is featuring Hoffman’s last starring role (he’ll still be seen in the upcoming Mockingjay) – it was the last movie he filmed before his death. His performance is stellar, incisive, and strangely effective. One could argue moreso than the actual movie.