[Screen It]


(2014) (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright) (R)

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Thriller: A German intelligence operative tracks a lone terrorist suspect in Hamburg, hoping he will be the key to bringing down a major money laundering operation.
Gunther Bachmann (PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN) is the leader of a super-secret German intelligence team that tracks the movements of suspected Islamic terrorists in Hamburg, which an opening title card states was one of the cities where the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists hatched their plot. His latest target is Issa (GRIGORIY DOBRYGIN), the son of a terrorist mastermind who has recently immigrated to Germany illegally and has disappeared into the city's underground.

As it turns out, Issa has inherited his father's ill-gotten millions, but wants nothing to do with the fortune as he considers it blood money. He gets in contact with a liberal-minded lawyer named Annabel Richter (RACHEL McADAMS), who represents him in his dealings with his father's banker, Tommy Brue (WILLEM DAFOE). Issa wants to donate the family fortune to Abdullah (HOMAYOUN ERSHADI), a respected Muslim businessman with ties to multiple Islamic charities.

Gunther, though, has been investigating Abdullah, too, and suspects he is using the charities partly to launder money to a terrorist organization fronting as a shipping company. He instructs his team, which includes colleagues Irna (NINA HOSS) and Maximilian (DANIEL BRUHL) and informant Jamal (MEHDI DEBHI), to nab Annabel and use her growing sympathy to the innocent Issa to help them catch Abdullah. Meanwhile, the CIA, led by a seemingly friendly operative named Martha (ROBIN WRIGHT), is keeping a close eye on Gunther's team as they want Abdullah for the American agency's own purposes.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
There are some movies that are good movies that are marred by something that happened way out of the filmmakers' control. "A Most Wanted Man" is one such flick. This is the last movie Philip Seymour Hoffman completed fully before his untimely death of a drug overdose earlier in the year (he will be seen in the next "Hunger Games" movie, though). And the guy is not looking good in the film. It's part of the character of German spy Gunther Bachmann that he be a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, world-weary sad sack. And if we weren't aware of Hoffman's real-life demons and he were to promote the film on Fallon, Letterman, Kimmel, and Ferguson, they and we'd be lauding him for his realism and his ability to become fully absorbed in his characters.

But we know the truth now. The truth is that throughout "A Most Wanted Man," we're seeing a Most Troubled Man ... a most troubled dying man, as it turns out. The performance is strong. But it's not one of those landmark star turns a la Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight" that completely stands on its own, apart from tragic reality, and sweeps you up in its power. The film is too quiet, too brooding, too much of a slow burn. It's a good film. It's just not good enough.

Based on a John le Carre novel, once again we get a story a la "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" that is kind of an anti-James Bond/Jack Ryan movie. There is very little spectacle, no big stunts or action set pieces, no actors running from slo-mo fireballs. Instead, we get slow, methodical surveillance. We get spies in vans or in dingy offices pouring over black-and-white photos, grainy surveillance footage, muffled wire taps. Instead of Gunther using a high-tech gadget from Q, he gets one of his most useful pieces of information from an informant who has hidden a flash drive in a common pack of cigarettes. And the government operatives in this film only want to have sex with their good-looking targets, chiefly Rachel McAdams' caught-in-the-middle attorney, Annabel Richter. They never get to make that kind of seduction part of their spy games. The film should be titled, "This Is How Black Ops Really Work, People!"

Annabel's latest client is Issa (Gregoriy Dobrygin), the son of a terrorist who has inherited his father's ill-gotten gains and is looking to donate the entire fortune to Muslim charities. She seeks out a German banker named Tommy (Willem Dafoe), who can help them get the money to an Islamic businessman and philanthropist Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi) who can see that the money is dispersed to a number of worthy causes. Gunther, though, has been secretly investigating Abdullah and believes he helps launder money to a much larger terrorist network. In his words, Issa is the guppy to Abdullah's barracuda to the terrorist organization's shark ... and he wants to reel them all in.

But he also has to deal with some German superiors who don't quite believe in him. In addition, the CIA is watching with the U.S. having dispatched an operative named Martha (Robin Wright) to protect its interests in the case. Treachery is all around, which causes Gunther to step up his game ... and his chain-smoking and drinking.

Yes, the deeper this rabbit hole goes, the more Hoffman indulges in his Marlboros and Scotch. After a while, I just wanted the film to stop showing us endless scenes of the late star lighting up and taking swigs and get to more of the spy junk I had come to see. The film works in showing us that the spy profession can be a slow, methodical, unglamorous, and even unnatural way of life. And a final twist is indeed well-played and will have many audience members leaving the theater sounding a collective "Ooof!" If you are looking to drown out the real world, this ain't gonna be your flick. But I can't deny its craft and its professionalism. I give it a 5.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed July 29, 2014 / Posted July 31, 2014

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