Title: A Most Wanted Man
Director: Anton Corbjin
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Daniel Bruhl, Nina Hoss
Terrorism, and its prevention, is a common film topic in both narrative and nonfiction filmmaking. While the United States of America feels a particular connection and resolve due to the events of September 11th, 2001, it’s also an internationally-recognized issue, one that has affected and continues to affect many countries around the world. A Most Wanted Man, adapted from the novel by John Le Carre, sets itself in Germany, featuring a team of spies led by Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who sets their sights on using a suspicious visitor to take down a renowned businessman believed to be a funder of terror operations.
Corbjin’s last film was the quiet thriller The American, starring George Clooney as a lonely operative carrying out a mission in Italy. That film was a subtle, slow-paced look at one man and how his external life affected his internal struggles. A Most Wanted Man enlists a wider slate of talent, hiring a few American actors to portray foreign players. Hoffman dons a German accent but is still recognizably gruff and flappable as the determined leader of a team not often supported by his superiors, and he is joined by a few other big-name actors clearly excited to work with a director such as Corbjin.
The plot of A Most Wanted Man is considerably muddier than that of The American, though it’s not all that complex in its construction. Bachmann flags the arrival of Issa, a Chechen criminal into Germany and begins surveilling where he goes and what he does. He soon comes into contact with Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), a lawyer for an organization known as Sanctuary North that helps foreigners with immigration rights. As Bachmann is told repeatedly that Issa is a threat and that he should not play the long game, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys.
At the Sundance Film Festival, A Most Wanted Man is an intriguing companion piece to the documentary The Green Prince, which tells the true story of the son of a Hamas leader recruited to spy for Israel. There is more at play here than that, but in addition to Bachmann having recruited his target’s son as an asset, the idea is the same. Richter must contemplate the ethics of her actions when she realizes that she has no choice but to cooperate with Bachmann and his investigation, though she firmly believes in the innocence of her client and his right to fair treatment regardless of his guilt. The questions presented are thought-provoking, and the film’s tedious pacing allows for plenty of time to think them over.
The four American actors – Hoffman, McAdams, Willem Dafoe, and Robin Wright – are all very skilled and have delivered impressive performances in the past. While they are well-suited to their parts here, particularly Dafoe as a conflicted banker and Wright as an American agent trying to partner with Bachmann, none of them delivers a truly remarkable turn that stands out among their best work. Though he does become sympathetic, Issa is initially hard to connect to because of the muted performance from USSR-born actor Grigoriy Dobrygin, which is relatively unenthusiastic. This not a conventional thriller, taking a slow-burn approach to its storytelling. Heightened pacing might have helped, but the plot here isn’t as compelling as it should be either.
This Sundance Film Festival Premieres entry has held several public screenings in Park City thus far, with more scheduled.
Written by Abe Fried-Tanzer