The fascinating thing about A Most Wanted Man is that it’s not really about the man that everyone is after. The film is about all the people that are after him. In one of his final performances, Philip Seymour Hoffman does some of his best work ever as Gunther Bachmann, a German spy who leads a team that tracks Muslim activity in Hamburg. Bachmann has had missions go wrong in the past, and everyone is still haunted by their mistakes before 9/11, so he wants to make sure he gets it right.
Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) has entered the city illegally and is considered a terrorist, but what is he doing in Hamburg? While others want to nab him before he can do anything, Bachmann wants to wait and figure out what Karpov is up to first. He hopes that Issa can lead him to some bigger fish because taking out Issa would do nothing to stop terrorism in the long-term. So Issa becomes the chess piece that characters start to move around to serve their own agenda.
Throwing a wrench into things is lawyer Annabel Richter, played by Rachel McAdams. She’s not a courtroom lawyer, but more a street lawyer helping out those in need. Or as Gunther calls her, “a social worker for terrorists”. Not only does Rachel look freakin’ gorgeous (her hair has never looked better…seriously), it’s her best role in a decade. Annabel is strong and determined, but she’s also in way over her head. McAdams plays all those notes beautifully. When she is finally in the same room as Hoffman, the energy is magnetic. It’s great to see the two actors together.
It’s also great to see Hoffman spar with Robin Wright, who plays American agent Martha Sullivan. Probably to differentiate from her current role on House Of Cards, Wright changes her blonde bob to black, but Martha has her own agenda just as much as Claire Underwood on that Netflix show. I would have liked a little more of Wright in the film, especially given the way the role develops.
A Most Wanted Man is a slowburn thriller. Don’t expect a Bourne-like espionage flick. The film does wain at times when you’re waiting for things to really kick into gear. It has a lot of pieces it has to put in place, and those pieces like to sit around and talk. It helps tremendously that its got such a stellar cast (that also includes Willem Dafoe and Daniel Bruhl) to deliver its dialogue, but it has you shifting in your seat in boredom sometimes.
That being said, it leads to a shocking ending that will leave you reeling. It’s so expertly staged by director Anton Corbijn that it will help you forgive the film for taking its time getting there, and at least you get to watch Hoffman and McAdams deliver fantastic performances in the meantime.