Friday, August 15, 2014

A Most Wanted Man review

A Most Wanted Man

Oftentimes, throughout the slow burn of Anton Corbijn's "A Most Wanted Man," we see Philip Seymour Hoffman's character thinking, plotting, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. His character, Gunther, never seems relaxed. He never seems at ease with himself. By the end of the film, we find out why.

Gunther, along with a small team, runs a mini-intelligence outfit in Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg was once the city where a terrorist plotted 9/11. As you can imagine, security has tightened up considerably as a result. So when a Chechen immigrant suddenly appears in the city, it's with a great deal of concern. Is he a terrorist? A potential terrorist? What is he doing here?

Is he here because of Dr. Faisal Abdullah? A Muslim who most recently spoke at a conference in Hamburg? These are all questions that are raised throughout the film and Gunther does his best to maintain control of the situation. He, with his team, never lose sight of either the doctor or the Chechen immigrant. Not even when lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) comes along. She's come to protect the Chechen from possibly being arrested, but she clearly has not thought her plan through. And when she comes face to face with Gunther, she'll have even more serious questions to deal with.

In many ways, Gunther seems ubiquitous. But we soon come to find out that he's not a threat to anyone. When he says he wants to help the immigrant, he actually means it. He may be trying to eliminate terrorism, but he also sees the nuance of the situation... something his European and American counterparts seem to lack. And while he always seems to be one step ahead of the game, we ultimately come to find out just how much/how little power Gunther truly has.

See, I was lukewarm with the film when I saw it in theaters. I've been lukewarm with Anton Corbijn films in general. That said, I feel there is a great dearth of spy movies these days, especially one that gives the genre as much respect as "A Most Wanted Man" does. If you want a spy thriller, you've come to the right movie, it just may not play out in a typical Hollywood fashion. That doesn't mean the movie isn't without its problems. The pacing is indeed a "slow burn," and that slow burn does occasionally go down avenues where it feels like it's intentionally padding its running time. A second viewing would confirm/deny these suspicions. And despite my reservations, I would love to see this movie again.

This is a must-see movie for those curious about seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final roles. PSH is the glue that holds this movie together, and you can't help but admire the quiet confidence that he exudes when he's on screen. He hardly ever shouts, he never really goes for the "big moment." He always approaches his character with a sense of realism.

Now I'll admit, I certainly felt the two hours pass as I was watching this movie. But I kinda fell in love with this world. The world of espionage and intrigue. And other than PSH, Rachel McAdams was a welcome surprise. She's not really known for starring in a drama such as this, but she proves that she can hold her own with the best of them. Furthermore, Willem Dafoe (who plays a rich banker who gets caught up in Gunther's web) is always a welcome presence on the big screen. Overall, the movie unfolds in a smooth, unassuming way that when the end comes, it's like a jolt through the system. So while the movie does feel slow from time to time, the ending makes me want to go back and relive the experience all over again. No matter how fast or slow a movie is, if it's time well spent, then it's worth the ride. "A Most Wanted Man," at the very least, is worth the ride.

"A Most Wanted Man" will definitely leave you frustrated----but for a good reason. So, don't flip out when the credits roll at the end of the film. Stay in your seat and think about the preceding two hours just a little bit. It's all there. The ending does work. And the movie ends exactly as it's supposed to, even if it feels sudden.

The movie is about humanity in the face of a potential terrorist threat. If we suspect that someone is a terrorist, does he still have rights? What if the man in question is innocent, but is a victim of circumstance? The exclamation point of an ending, to me, means that this movie has a specific point it's trying to get across. There are decent people out there in the espionage game, like Gunther, but there are many other intelligence agencies out there, bigger ones. And they will always get in the way of guys like Gunther. They will always win out, unless they change their methods. But you know what? In this crazy world? Perhaps they feel it's better to be safe than sorry, which means arresting someone who they suspect to be a terrorist even if their suspicions are unfounded. It's a cutthroat world and a method that leaves a lot of bad blood, but that's just the way the world works. I think if "A Most Wanted Man" ended any other way, it would be a dishonest film. It's a film that raises all these questions about morality and humanity and it's up to you to see where you stand in that spectrum.

So if you have the patience, it's easy to get sucked into the darkly-lit cinematography that Corbijn, along with DP Benoit Delhomme utilize throughout. Often we see the characters trapped. Trapped in an apartment, trapped in a faux-prison cell. Or, really, trapped in Hamburg. Certain events in Gunther's past has lead him to Hamburg, and he's essentially stuck there. From his conversations with American agent Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), you can hear the bitterness of his voice simmer as agent Sullivan dares to suggest he share his information with her. He's been burned before, why would he trust her? This trapped feeling does nothing but suggest an unfortunate ending for everyone involved in this operation. The movie has an ending you won't see coming, but when you think about it, you really should've expected it.

And despite whether or not the ending satisfies you, you can still take comfort in the fact that Philip Seymour Hoffman's career has ended on such a high note. He was such a gifted actor and his talents are on full display in this movie. I'll never stop wondering what his career would've been like if he hadn't cut it short, but it makes me feel good to know that he ended his career playing such a quiet, nuanced character. It's a performance that normally doesn't end with awards, and despite the accolades he received throughout his career, he was never a man who seemed hellbent on winning Oscars. There was always a certain understated-ness about his performances and you get that in spades here. Hoffman was a true original and he will be deeply missed, but he left the world with so many wonderful gifts and we can watch them anytime we want. So, thank you, PSH. See you on the other side... and in the last two "Hunger Games" movies.

Grade: B+

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