Spy films often follow similar beats and through in a ton of action and new weaponry to get your eyes glued to the screen. There’s an attractive spy who always seduces women (whether he tries to or not) and you get all sorts of romance from that. There are usually some chase scenes and the whole film is pretty exciting. Turns out, most spy adventures are nothing like that and there jobs are actually quite tedious. No one wants to watch a boring, true-to-life spy story, which is why we get fictitious ones. I do applaud the effort of trying to tell a real spy story, even if it doesn’t completely work.
In the German town of Hamburg, terror activity is growing increasingly rampant, as the charitable Muslim activist Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi) is pegged as a man sending some donations to the terrorists. Investigating him, is German counter terrorist operative Gunther Bachman (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his team (Nina Hoss & Daniel Bruhl). Tensions only escalate when a Chechen/Russian immigrant washes up on shores and decides to take refuge in Hamburg’s Islamic community.
The man is identified as Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) and he’s on the terrorist watch list, as he spent time in prison in Russia. During his time in Hamburg, Issa quickly gains help from a young lawyer named Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), who wants to give him asylum and will help Issa with an interesting problem involving a banker (Willem Dafoe). However, Gunther and his German operatives are working against the clock apprehend Issa, before agent Marhta Sullivan (Robin Wright) and the Americans get him first. Who knows what he has planned.
A Most Wanted Man has a vaguely interesting story that will put you to sleep after half-an-hour because it’s just so dry. While I did manage to stay awake for the entirety of the film, I did envision a scenario where I dozed off and the film was actually called A Most Wanted Nap. To its credit, the film has some great performances, but you just don’t care about anyone and the story is slow the whole way through. Unfortunately, it’s another bad film from the late Seymour-Hoffman that doesn’t really do much for anyone.
Hoffman, who tragically passed away recently, really does out-perform everyone else in the cast. His portrayal of an anti-terrorist spy is fresh and gives a new appeal to the tried character tropes we often see. She’s not around nearly as often, but Robin Wright does some intense work when she’s on-screen and her good-guy/bad-guy character is a perfect puzzle for Hoffman. McAdams drops her sweet side and becomes serious and emotionally puzzled, while Dafoe finds himself trapped in the middle and unsure of himself. All solid performances that showcase the darker sides to these actors and what they’d be willing to do for what they believe is right.
In a post 9/11 setting, this film works on a lot of levels, mainly the fact that it’s centered around a covert counter-terrorist group attempting to stop attacks and take down radical Muslims. Their methods of tracking are quite interesting and watching how closely they work can, at times, be exciting. The great thing about all this spying is that it doesn’t rely upon tons of futuristic technology that is always super convenient. Instead, we get good ole’ fashioned, modern-age technology that locating terrorists harder and more realistic.
Unfortunately, the film falls apart because it depicts everything as dull and eventful. There’s really only one “chase scene” and even then, it’s bland and doesn’t excite you in the slightest bit. I’m not saying that this film needed to be as action-packed and as awesome as 24, but at least Jack Bauer is a complex character who makes hunting terrorists and kicking ass fun to watch. There’s more that happens in an hour of 24 (including character development, story, mystery, badassery, exploration of religious themes sometimes, terrorist backstories), than happened in this prolonged film that accomplishes very little and leaves you dissatisfied in the end.
With as many great performances as this film has, the central character of the film couldn’t be more uninteresting and unexplored. We’re to believe that he’s been through tough times and that he’s not the terrorist everyone thinks him to be, but we only get a few moments with him that add any insight into his character. Dobrygin plays his character with a straight face and just a little bit of emotion would have helped me figure out where this guy’s head is at. I never became attached to his character, nor did I pick a side and that’s probably what took me out of the film most. For me, that’s essential in a film that wants me to believe that he’s redeemable and truly means what he’s saying/doing.
Director Anton Corbijn has directed two compelling films, Control & The American, and the former is another fresh portrayal of spies and how they work. If not a thrilling terrorist spy film, I’d hoped that A Most Wanted Man would have been more enjoyable in terms of drama and story. Alas, I found a semi-boring flick that I wouldn’t ever revisit. It may appeal to some, but a season of 24 takes as long as this film feels and does a far better job of keeping you involved and satisfied.
A Most Wanted Man Trailer