A Most Wanted Man: based on a John le Carre novel, it’s about spies who are tracking bad guys under gloomy German skies using listening devices, hidden cameras, informers and good old-fashioned follow-that-guy techniques. It’s as if the Cold War never ended. Yippee!
I will admit, when it comes to movies, I do miss the Cold War. It’s just not the same, going into a movie and not knowing who the villain will be this time: the Chinese? The Russians? Internet hackers? Multimedia moguls? Oh, Islamic radicals are so last decade—and so politically incorrect. Which is why A Most Wanted Man feels so refreshing. It’s a modern movie that feels so old-fashioned. It takes place today but you’d swear up and down, as you’re watching, that you were watching a Cold War classic. And all the credit goes to director Anton Corbijn and novelist John le Carre for that. With a little help from star Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his final starring role before his untimely death earlier this year. Between the three of them, A Most Wanted Man unspools to become a pretty good time in the theatre—if those gloomy spy movies were ever your thing.
And here’s the other thing about A Most Wanted Man: I don’t want to talk too much about it. Part of why my experience of the film was so rich was because my knowledge of the movie going in was so limited, so I refuse to ruin anyone else’s chance at experiencing this movie for themselves by saying too much. However, I will say, for those of you looking to find out whether this movie is something worth seeking out in what is becoming a more and more crowded space at the movie theatre, I will hit on a few points that may help you decide whether to run out and catch it in the theatre or not.
-If you are a fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman, he carries this film and delivers a shatteringly great performance in his last starring role. It will break your heart, in more ways than one.
-I am an unabashed fan of director Anton Corbijn and am not ashamed to state my bias. This is only his third feature film, his previous two efforts, Control and The American, continued to show the style and visual sensibility that he has honed over the years that he made his name as a music video director (he’s worked extensively with U2 and Depeche Mode, among others). His naturalistic, low-key visual style really lends itself to the story here and this is the best pairing of story with director that he’s had yet.
-The supporting cast, mostly European, is strong, with perhaps the one mis-step of Rachel McAdams in a significant supporting role. While she does fine, I can imagine any number of other actresses who would have been better suited for the part. I’m wondering if her casting was required to get the movie made? We’ll never know.
Finally, I just have to say, without wanting to give too much away about A Most Wanted Man, I do want to say that besides feeling like I was wrapped up in a brilliant Cold War movie (which I wasn’t), what I loved most about A Most Wanted Man was getting caught up in comparisons in my own mind with Zero Dark Thirty. A Most Wanted Man has a very similar vibe, feeling and thematic philosophy—for lack of a better term—as the brilliant Kathryn Bigelow film from two years ago. Both films are rich, textured, slightly controversial and feature a lead character who is obsessed, enigmatic and goal-oriented. As films, I certainly can find fault in both, but as reflections of our society and what is going on in our world and what it perhaps takes to battle the evil-doers that walk among us, each of these films offer a gripping and searing look at passion, compassion, betrayal, politics and obsession that will keep your interest and will most likely keep you thinking long after the credits roll.
A Most Wanted Man is slow and gloomy and probably the definition of an adult drama (it will put anyone under the age of 15 to sleep, I promise you), but if you love layered political intrigue, spies and/or Philip Seymour Hoffman and would like to say goodbye to one of the true talents of our generation, go to the movie theatre and do it in style.