Friday, February 3, 2017

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

Director: Anton Corbijn                                    Writer: Andrew Bovell
Film Score: Herbert Grönemeyer                    Cinematography: Benoît Delhomme
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Nina Hoss, Grigoriy Dobrygin and Daniel Brühl

The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman is still a tough one to get over, especially considering how much great work he was doing at the time. And things were only going to get better. He was consistently appearing in better films, like this one, and was on track to becoming one of the greatest actors of the new century. A Most Wanted Man is an espionage thriller based on the novel by John le Carré and the question of the film’s popularity, or lack thereof, is an interesting one. While it has fairly high ratings on sites like Imdb, it’s clear that many viewers found it boring: code for not enough explosions and car chases. But the thing to remember is that this is not Jason Borne or Luc Besson, this is a spy movie, right out of the seventies. This is a character study, as the two sides move the chess pieces on the board in an attempt to outsmart the other. The plot, while not particularly inventive, is certainly intriguing as Hoffman is not only up against the other side, he’s also up against his own side. In the middle of the film Hoffman makes an interesting point, that arresting and killing the middle men are never going to solve the problem unless they let those middle men lead them to the people in charge. But the police and the U.S. government are just too impatient--or incompetent--to allow that. This is the foundation for the twist that comes at the end of the film.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a German counter-terrorist agent in Hamburg, Germany. He gets on the trail of a recent arrival, Grigoriy Dobrygin, who has climbed out of the sea and is walking around the city in a gray hoodie. Helping Hoffman are fellow agents Daniel Brühl, and assistant Nina Hoss. As he tracks Dobrygin’s movements he begins to get heat from the police, who want to pick him up. But Hoffman knows the man is much more valuable for who he can lead them to than what his is himself. At the same time the team is also following a famous Muslim leader Homayoun Ershadi, who they believe is laundering terrorist money in Cyprus. Eventually Robin Wright is called in by the U.S. Embassy to find out why they aren’t arresting Dobrygin. But when she hears what he has to say, she backs Hoffman and the police give him three days to find out something before they arrest him themselves. The people Dobrygin is staying with ask lawyer Rachel McAdams to come and talk to him. He says he’s been tortured by the Russians and she wants to know if he’s seeking asylum. He won’t say, but gives her the name of banker Willem Dafoe to contact while Hoffman’s team discover he’s the son of a dead Russian general. Apparently the father left a large sum of money in Dafoe’s bank and Dobrygin wants to get at it. At that point it doesn’t take much of a leap to believe that Ershadi’s presence in Germany has something to do with moving the money into terrorist hands.

The most obvious flaw of the film is that it positively begs for a European cast. Philip Seymour Hoffman struggles with the German accent, though half the time he sounds as if he’s trying to do Irish. Rachel McAdams is simply out of her element, one moment with passable German and the next sounding like a Valley girl. And then there’s Willem Dafoe, who sounds he’s trying to do a British accent and failing miserably. It’s quite a mess. The only explanation is that the Americans were needed in order to ensure an American audience--in other words, box office dollars--for the film. Hoffman was praised for his performance, and most felt it was a fitting way for him to go out, a powerful character study in which he was the primary figure. And as far as that goes, it should have been enough. Rachel McAdams and Willem Dafoe only drag the whole thing down, when it didn’t have to be that way. Nina Hoss shows how good European actors could have been. Daniel Brühl was also a great choice, but he barely had any screen time. On the technical side, the film is solid in every way. The photography by Benoît Delhomme is gorgeous, and director Anton Corbijn’s choices are equally good, especially in the way he integrates the modern structures of the government buildings with the actors. The film score by Herbert Grönemeyer is subtly appropriate. Ultimately, A Most Wanted Man is an effective suspense film that is marred by the inclusion of American actors in what is essentially a European story.

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