A revealing story of our government and the way it operates
From the moment Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) climbs out of the sewers in the first scene of this movie, you know you're watching a classic. Suspenseful and gritty, "A Most Wanted Man" is a refreshing look at the darker, rougher side of our bureaucracy.
Karpov is in Hamburg seeking asylum from Russia, where he was imprisoned and tortured. Befriending a left-wing lawyer (Rachel McAdams) and finding his way to the millions of Euros in inheritance his father left for him, Karpov is looking to start a new life in Hamburg. A confused man, he donates his wealth to charity through a corrupt Muslim philanthropist (Homayoun Ershadi) to cleanse himself of his father's sins. At least, that's why he thinks he's doing it. In reality, his every move is being manipulated by Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his team, who are setting up an operation to destroy a network of Muslim terrorists and their benefactors. Bachmann is the head of an anti-terrorism based unit dealing with Muslim militants in Germany. Sent to Hamburg, the city that housed the original 9/11 terrorists, as a punishment for a failed operation in Beirut, Bachmann is a gruff character. Cynical on the surface, he is motivated by his need for redemption and his secret but powerful belief that what he does makes the world a safer place.
While watching Bachmann, there's no indication that he's a fictional character. The hard drinking, tough Bachmann and Philip Seymour Hoffman melt into one entity as soon as the film begins. His emotions seem almost too real, and his frustration and despair reaches out and grasps the essence of what makes us human. Bachmann is witty, yet gruff; tender on the inside, but a cynic outwardly. It's an extremely complex role, but one that Hoffman seems born to play. Hoffman builds his character from the small things – his addiction to cigarettes and alcohol, or his frequenting of dive bars. Similarly, the character of Bachmann builds up his operation slowly, letting Karpov roam in order to build a case against a larger target. And there's something else they have in common – in both cases, it all comes crashing down.
In Bachmann's world, you're either wealthy or you're poor. There's no middle ground. Director Anton Corbijn and cinematographer Benoît Delhomme manage to capture it perfectly, switching rapidly between the numerous seedy dive bars that populate Bachmann's world and the exquisitely polished, elegant hotels of his coworkers and targets. Throughout the entire film, however, the feel of a gritty, rough town is there, reminding everyone of the severity and intensity of the situation.
If you're looking for an action movie, this isn't it. There is a chase scene, albeit one that ends up with portly Günther Bachmann wheezing in a dead end, having lost his target. And although at one point there is an almost comically stereotypical kidnapping, the film is grounded firmly in reality. Bachmann's struggles with his peers make the whole situation tenser. Rather than the typical "good guy versus bad guy" scenario, Hoffman is left alone trying desperately trying to manipulate his entire surroundings, supported only by those on his immediate agency team.
With a dexterous cast and gritty cinematography and directing, "A Most Wanted Man" keeps the audience in suspense for the entirety of the film and leaves the audience with necessary questions on the ways we (and the government) function.
"A Most Wanted Man" is rated R for language and is now playing at Landmark Bethesda Row, Landmark E. Street Cinema, AMC Loews Georgetown 14, and AMC Hoffman Center 22.
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