Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Most Wanted Man

Come on, other contributors to eFilmCritic - I don't have time to write these things before Fantasia screenings fall out of my head.

Aside from that, that thing I say in the opening of the EFC review about thinking John le Carré was no longer with us - completely true; I could half-swear I've read an obituary at some point, and this movie was an update of some Cold War-era novel. Not the case!

Okay, back to the Fantasia stuff.

A Most Wanted Man

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2014 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

I must admit to bring a little surprised that John le Carré is still with us and writing contemporary works; I had sort of aimed he faded away with the end of the Cold War. This, it turns out, is not the case; age may have slowed him down some but his stories of quiet men doing ethically questionable things in the names of their countries continue to come and intrigue a patient audience. This impressive adaptation of a more recent work is low-key, but nevertheless a fascinating story of espionage's unusual ethics.

The scene is Hamburg, where Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) heads a small, very secret operation trying to discover terrorist plots and money in the port city. His main target is Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), a moderate philanthropist of Arab descent who tends to have a little money disappear on the way to the good works, at least until Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) shows up. A Chechen immigrant with jihadist ties, Karpov enlists Annabel Richter (Rachel MacAdams), a young lawyer specializing in refugee cases, to serve as a go-between with Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe), whose bank is holding a great deal of money deposit by Karpov's Russian father. Gunther sees a plan and a pattern here, but he'll need some help from American observer Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) to gain some time, as the regular police would like to take the bird in the hand.

There are all manner of spy stories, from the James Bond and Tom Clancy stories which focus on taking out the enemy with varying degrees of stealth to the almost amoral ones where the conflict is so abstracted that those involved simply treat it as a game. This one sounds very much like the latter; while it reminds the audience right off the bat that the 9/11 attacks were largely planned in and staged from Hamburg, it doesn't offer up any sort of secret plot of its own, whether terrorist or governmental, and of the two or three scenes that have what one would usually describe as "action" in a movie of this type, only one comes away feeling like that sort of moment. There's still excitement, though; director Anton Corbijn stages characters tailing each other as well as anybody you'll see, while he and screenwriter Andrew Novell make le Carré's story built around possible dirty money worth listening to closely.

Full review at EFC

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