On the Silver Screen – A Most Wanted Man

Sep 13, 2014 | Posted by in Movies

One of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final films, A Most Wanted Man is the story of a half Chechen, half Russian refugee named Issa Karpov (Grigory Dobrygin) who illegally sneaks into the German city of Hamburg and comes to the attention of an anti-terror group working covertly led by Gunther Bachman (Hoffman). Bachman investigates the belief that Issa is a dangerous terrorist while idealistic lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) campaigns for him to achieve asylum.

As might be expected from an espionage thriller this film is very densely plotted but doesn’t suffer too much for that. There’s a lot going on with no attempt to simplify the complex political situations or even the nationalities of the characters which makes the world of the film feel all the more realistic and richer as it presents a lot of information politically, socially and even emotionally. The story builds itself slowly over the 2 hours with well placed revelations shaking up the focus of the story at key points preventing it from ever getting stale by lingering on a moment for longer than it should.

Issa is portrayed as a deeply damaged human being who has seen a lot of hardship in his life, something that is illustrated by a fairly shocking view of the scarring left by the torture he has suffered in the past. A lot is done by the film to have the audience sympathise with his situation and his desire to leave his past behind him. Given that the film is built around him it’s great that he’s such a layered character who leaves a lot of unanswered questions by the end.

Rachel McAdams turn as Annabel Richter is excellent, I love how she starts the film as almost naively idealistic but is almost totally broken by the situation she finds herself in. The destruction of her character happens very slowly and organically throughout the narrative that it makes it completely believable. McAdams sells this tragic character perfectly with her likeable presence making it heartbreaking to see her broken by the end.

Tmost_wanted_man_xlghe real star here is Philip Seymour Hoffman who owns every scene he’s in. He comes across as an intrinsically good person who is absolutely drained by constantly dealing with people who have conflicting agendas as well as all of the procedures and rules he has to follow that prevent him from doing what is best for people. More than one reference is made to him wanting to make the world a better place and Hoffman plays this unrealistic claim with absolute sincerity, it’s clear that Bachman doesn’t doubt that it can be done despite all of the evidence he has received to the contrary over the course of a long and arduous career dealing with things like this. There’s a nice contrast in his performance between weariness and determination as he does what he can to manipulate those around him to get the best outcome possible. The final scene of the film is especially powerful as it’s a defining moment for his character and Hoffman plays that expertly with such raw and unrestrained emotion. It is a shame that this is one of the last new films where we will see this gifted actor perform.

Tonally the film is very bleak and claustrophobic, something that’s mirrored in the visuals. Hamburg is portrayed as a city full of buildings that are in disrepair and streets that looks inhospitable. Most of the film takes place in small, sparsely decorated rooms making everything about it feel very unsettling. Anton Corbijn’s direction builds this world beautifully as well as helping us understand the characters who have to live in it.

At times the film can feel a bit overlong with some scenes that drag a little, particularly those featuring Willem Defoe’s Tommy Brue who feels somewhat extraneous at points. There’s a subtle mystery to his character that never seems to go anywhere beyond the hint that there is one. Perhaps this is something that was fleshed the novel that the film was adapted from but it doesn’t quite work here. Defoe does a great job with what he has but the character he’s playing feels underdeveloped, especially against the backdrop of the other wonderfully nuanced characters.

  • 8/10
    A Most Wanted Man - 8/10


A very intricately plotted espionage thriller with very deliberate pacing and a talented cast giving great performances. Philip Seymour Hoffman -sadly in one of his final roles- plays his part beautifully with such fantastic subtlety to his world weary character and Rachel McAdams gives a very powerful performance as a woman slowly destroyed by the situation she finds herself in. The film is very bleak, set in an unsettling and claustrophobic world where there seems to be little hope and no corners are cut with the complexity of nationalities or politics. In some instances the film feels very slow but it’s not something that hurts it all that much.