By Justin Park
Günther is standing in the dark, maintaining his ice-cold demeanor as Tommy yells at him. In a reserved tone, he says, “We have a job to do Tommy; you are going to help me do it.”
The leader of a German intelligence and counter-terrorism unit, Günther always seems to be calmly in control of every situation. Throughout this intense, suspenseful, slow — but highly engaging — film, he proves to be a master of manipulating multiple contacts to achieve his objectives.
“A Most Wanted Man” is a spy thriller, based on the John le Carré novel. It’s the fifth of le Carré’s books to be adapted for the big screen, following most recently the critically acclaimed “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” “A Most Wanted Man” may be best known at this point because it’s one of the last films to star the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. And in Günther, Hoffman has created an extremely believable, complicated and grim character.
Günther monitors the Islamic community in Hamburg, Germany, and his aim is to take down a suspected terrorist financer named Abdullah, while struggling to work through a bloated intelligence bureaucracy. Along the way, Günther encounters a Muslim Chechen suspected terrorist named Issa Karpov, played by Grigoriy Dobrygin. Issa is seeking to claim a fortune from his late father, dragging Annabel (an activist lawyer played by Rachel McAdams) and Tommy (a self-preserving banker played by Willem Dafoe) into the drama. In addition, Günther meets a CIA officer (Robin Wright) with whom he begrudgingly enters a professional arrangement. “A Most Wanted Man” features a vast array of characters, each with their own objectives. Günther must figure out how to manipulate Issa, Annabel and Tommy to suit his needs and hopefully bring down Abdullah and his associates.
“A Most Wanted Man” is a long journey with dramatic twists. But it’s accompanied by intense drama and betrayal, driving it all towards an unusual, yet fitting ending. The film features a very small, but impeccable cast, each bringing their own individual personalities to the plot. The characters are deep and conflicted, and viewers are often not sure of who they truly want to root for.
The cinematography is skillfully done. Every shot captures the spirit of Günther’s Hamburg. The tight editing heightens the tension of the plot, and the incredible soundtrack — an excellent piano performance with a little violin — has a touching but fierce tone. The complexity of the plot beautifully works with the artistic execution of the production.
I highly recommend “A Most Wanted Man” to any filmgoer who appreciates a slow, but intense drama. It is strong on every level — great atmosphere, great acting, and great direction.
I do want to make clear that this movie crawls. This is not a fast spy film with shootouts and explosions. Those looking for a somber, melodic and authentic experience, however, will love this film. The gradual pace reflects the speed and reality of true espionage, and ultimately it works.
“A Most Wanted Man” is not only a fantastic film, but also an appropriate farewell to a cinematic legend. Hoffman’s impressive performance brings the dark and subtle Günther to life. It is pleasing to see one of his last roles played so well, and it may be among his best.