Is it possible to fix a past mistake or end up making the same one time and time again? What happens when you get close to redemption only to touch the glass ceiling before falling back down to reality? Can you handle the truth or will you run from it? That’s part of the premise behind the DVD release of “A Most Wanted Man,” which had two men following very different paths to redemption without looking out for the roadblocks around them. The film’s set-up was building up to a shocking finish that wasn’t fully fulfilled in the end.
“A Most Wanted Man” followed German spy Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who was tracking a Chechen-Russian immigrant with a questionable background that was on the run in Hamburg for reasons unknown. Bachmann’s American and German superiors were eager for him to arrest the suspect in order for them to interrogate him to see if he was there for a potential act of terrorism. Ever since 9/11, Bachmann and his people were given access to the local Muslim community in order to keep an eye as a way to prevent any potential acts of terrorism that might come to Hamburg. Gunther informed his superiors that he didn’t think that Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) wasn’t in Germany to commit a crime and that he was just planning to keep an eye on him just in case. While in Hamburg, Issa was put in touch with a German immigration lawyer named Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) to help get him asylum in Germany because he didn’t want to go back to Russia after he was in prison and tortured there. He wanted the opportunity to start over in Hamburg and leave his past behind, but he had no form of identification on him as he entered the country illegally. Issa suggested to Annabel to contact local banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe) as a way to secure proof for him to stay in Germany. Brue’s late father had a past as a money launderer and was hiding a lot of money that belonged to Issa’s father in the bank. Issa delivered a letter that explained that the money needed to be given to Issa, but the strange thing was that he didn’t want it because he believed that his late father’s money came from ill-gotten means. In an effort to put pressure on Gunther, his superiors threatened to step in and arrest everyone involved. Gunther’s American colleague Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) tried befriending him and managed to find out that he was using Issa as a way to go after someone connected to financing terrorism. Bachmann was forced to speed up his timeline by recruiting Brue and Annabel into the operation. Once he does, everything seemed to be going according to plan. What happens when Gunther’s perfect plan hits a major snag? Will he be able to handle the fallout?
In terms of questions, the movie did pose a few that concerned whether Gunther’s suspects were truly terrorists or individuals mislabeled by government officials looking to put a face to terrorism. On the surface, Issa’s character could’ve been seen as a villain in the film’s earlier scenes because he looked the part with his long beard and unkempt appearance due to being on the run. He didn’t say much and his motives were unknown to the audience because they only had the speculation of Gunther and his colleagues to answer their questions. As the movie progressed, Dobrygin’s scenes with McAdams showcased that Issa was more likely a soul so damaged by his past sins, as well as those of his father, that he was looking to change his life for the better. Viewers were given conflicting versions of Issa’s identity based on those scenes, as well as the ones with Hoffman’s Gunther looking to build his case. It was hard to tell which version was the truth, because there was never a firm answer as to which side Issa was truly on. Sadly, the movie’s ending did little to establish what the truth was either and it left viewers a little frustrated as to what happened to the film’s key players after an unexpected act of betrayal was revealed. The movie spent too much building up to a shocking finish, but it didn’t spend enough time to properly work on the fallout of that unexpected last act that it left viewers a little dissatisfied. It’s likely that the John le Carre book of the same name, which the movie was based on, had a similar set-up as well. Most of le Carre’s book tended to follow a more realistic approach that allowed spies to use their brains as well as their guns to get the job done, which was established to stellar results in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” It’s just a shame that the film’s script could’ve had the chance to remedy it and didn’t that makes it all the more disappointing. Overall, the movie was an interesting thriller because it focused on the intellectual aspects of being a spy without resorting to flashy parlor tricks to get the job done, but the film’s conclusion nearly threatened to ruin the movie as a whole.
As for breakout performances, Hoffman, Wright and McAdams led the pack for very different reasons as their performances helped to carry the film. Hoffman’s final acting performance as the disillusioned Gunther was looking for one last piece of professional success as a way to redeem himself. He placed all of his eggs in one basket without looking at the risks of doing so. Hoffman provided Gunther with a sense of calm cynicism as he believed that the world wasn’t always an honest place, such as his prime suspect who had the appearance of a kind humanitarian when it in fact that wasn’t the case. He gave Gunther a sense of optimism that he believed the best in some people until he proved them wrong, which they often did. The character didn’t want to believe the worst, but evidence always proved that evil did exist. Hoffman had a strong rapport with most of his cast members, especially with McAdams and Wright as his character tried to use both women to his advantage. When Hoffman’s Gunther suffered another professional blow, he made viewers sympathize with him in that he worked so hard to get close to the finish line that he didn’t see other government officials plotting to derail him. Wright, on the other hand, had the challenging task of portraying a government agent who appeared to be friendly when she was nothing but. Her character tried to charm Hoffman’s ragged agent as a way to get dirt on his assignment. When the ending revealed her true purpose, Wright’s knowing expression said everything that couldn’t be said in a final confrontation. McAdams had the task of trying to play the conflicted heroine who was recruited to betray her client that she started to care about. She knew that she was wrong to manipulate him, but the character did it anyway. McAdams’ strongest scene came when she realized that her act of betrayal was all for nothing. Her shocked and disappointed expression said everything for her that any line of dialogue couldn’t.
Verdict: Hoffman delivered a haunting portrayal of a government employee getting close to the truth before a shocking blow, but it was the story’s pace and lackluster ending that almost overshadowed his performance.
DVD Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: R
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)