johnlink ranks A MOST WANTED MAN (2014)

Philip Seymour Hoffman left the world behind and the world is less talented in his absence. A MOST WANTED MAN was one of his last projects, with his untimely death occurring a mere week before its premier at Sundance. Few actors of his generation could play comedy with such joy and drama with such a quiet ferocity. He is missed.

I watched A MOST WANTED MAN (2014) on 8.31.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

Set in Hamburg, Germany, this is a suspense film about a very talented cat – some German spies – batting a desperate mouse, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) between its paws. Those German spies are headed by Günther (Philip Seymous Hoffman), and they are more than happy to follow Karpov around as he tries to uncover a large amount of money. It is clear that Karpov is a Muslim, but it is unclear wether or not he is a threat.

Some other entities are closing in as well. Günther is not popular with the local police. They would be more than happy to bring in Karpov and call it a day. The Americans, in the person of Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) are also keeping a watchful eye. Things are going well for the spies even as Karpov finds a couple of allies. First is a lawyer specializing in helping find asylum for refugees (Rachel McAdams). Second is the a rich banker (Willem Dafoe) who’s father was a friend of Karpov’s father.

The performances are nice all around. While the movie employs plenty of European actors speaking in their native accents, McAdams and Hoffman blend in easily. Neither betrays themselves as American, and their incorporation does not feel like glamorous Americanization through casting. McAdams plays a plucky lawyer who is increasingly realizing what a mess she is in. Her turn in this dark world predicts her involvement in the second season of True Detective. Also, Dobrygin is really solid as Karpov. The movie makes him both sympathetic and seemingly volatile at the same time. More than an hour into the movie, and his quiet performance does not reveal the is-he-or-isn’t-he nature of his character.

This is not a loud movie. We don’t get gunshots, we don’t get explosions, and we don’t get much violence. And all of that is a relief. This is not an action film about spies saving the world. It is a dramatic suspense film about spies trying to do something which may or may not be important. Günther sometimes appears a hero and sometimes not. We want to believe he does everything for a good reason, but we doubt along the way. This is a quiet film in which a major plot twist is subtly reviewed by a character we previously met opening a door. We discover connections between characters which we assumed would be found in a different way.

The twists in this are there, even if they don’t announce themselves until the end. And this is a movie with an ending which makes you want to pull your hair out. It is unsatisfying, even if it is everything this movie tells you it will be from the first few minutes. There is a brilliant moment where the diegetic sound of Günther playing his piano becomes the non-diegetic sound of the film score. We might assume that this foretells that the entire plot is being orchestrated by Günther himself. What seems like a discordant way to end the score is dismissed as mere filmic transition. But when the end plays out, it proves a calculated foreshadowing.

That is the sort of film A MOST WANTED MAN is. There may not be much haste to the plot’s unfolding, but the care with which the story is told is undeniable. This is a very good film, even if the ending is one leaving us feeling like we wanted so much more.




FINAL SCORE: 8 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on August 31, 2015.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks A MOST WANTED MAN (2014)”

  1. Great review, and yeah, I miss me some PSH something fierce. I really need to check this one out.

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