A Trip To The Movies: ‘A Most Wanted Man’ 9.26.14

It’s perhaps by a miracle that I happened to stumble upon this film. These days I’m mostly out of the loop when it comes to what’s current (a rather intentional move on my part). I don’t check Rotten Tomatoes for their latest aggregate score, I rarely look at what other reviewers are giving movies, nor do I visit movie news websites (sorry The Playlist, our long-lasting relationship is over). I do this precisely because I want to know very little about a film. No grades, no stills; and with the exception of a few, no trailers. I also do this because I want to have a complete blank slate other than maybe knowing the genre of the film, its cast; and most importantly, the director. I was looking at this week’s showtimes and was interested in checking out an afternoon matinée on my day off and I saw a title that jumped out at me called “A Most Wanted Man”. I saw that it had a star next to it (our local paper’s way of stating whether they liked a film or not). Pretty simple like Siskel and Ebert’s “thumbs up/down”. So I clicked on it and remembered that it was one of 3 final Philip Seymour Hoffman films I had heard about that he filmed before he passed away. Then I saw that it was under the genre of ” political crime thriller”. I almost decided on it right then and there and just happened to notice that it said directed by Anton Corbijn. I thought to myself “wait…Anton Corbijn?!?!” He has a new film out? How on earth didn’t I know about it? I guess my sheltering myself from what’s current and new had finally gone and backfired on me. We’re talking about the much celebrated director of both the incredible Ian Curtis/Joy Division film “Control” (2007) and the also amazing and incredibly misunderstood “The American” (2010). Once I found out that it was a crime film by this director featuring one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last films; that fit into the this specific genre that I loved, I was sold. Then it was just a matter of waiting out the few remaining days I had left in anticipation of seeing it.

The film opens and introduces us straight off the bat to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character. Who appears to be some sort of spy. We soon learn that he’s part of a counterintelligence group. One that’s based out of Hamburg, Germany. His particular outfit investigates suspected terrorists. Or so we’re lead to believe. The team he heads is following a Muslim for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Except we get the impression this person is important. We soon after meet Robin Wright who heads up the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. She proposes to him that the two of them team up as they too are watching this suspected terrorist. Not long after we meet Rachel McAdams (another actress who comes around every so often to remind you of how good she really is). McAdams plays a lawyer; one who understands the true reasons behind why both of these agencies are interested in this man, and goes on to represent him. We also meet the head of a bank. Played in great, slimy fashion by the great character actor Willem Dafoe. He’s the last remaining piece to the puzzle and holds the key to something instrumental that can help out the Muslim man considerably. From this point on it’s a series of scenes involving allegiances with everybody wanting something from the other. Everyone is constantly being trailed by the other and anyone could be under surveillance. Each entity is on their own and no one is safe. Who is protecting who? What is each’s motivations? Why is everyone being trailed by the other? These are questions that you will be asking yourself from the first 5 minutes until the last scene of the film. It’s a never-ending thrill ride where the chase is constant.

I personally cannot say enough good things about this film. Anton Corbijn does an absolutely amazing job at holding the audience’s attention without letting go throughout the entirety of the film. It’s shot like an old European spy thriller. Films like Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” (1949) or more recently; the 2011 remake of the 1979 film “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”. Films shot in big cities using muted dark colors like grey’s and blues which give them a certain iciness quality which lends itself well to the material. The surveillance scenes are also incredibly well shot. They allow the viewer in and give it an almost voyeuristic feel. The way in which Corbijn seems to be in complete control of the very complicated yet accessible story line really needs to be seen to be believed. In fact, it might be the most dense film I’ve seen that manages to not get itself muddled or disjointed in as far back as I can remember. Its intricate plot lines matched something like that of Stephen Gaghan’s “Syriana” (2005). The surveillance scenes and counterintelligence evoked a sense of dread and paranoia that was reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola’s stunning 1974 film “The Conversation” (one of my top 10-20 favorite films of all time). It keeps the audience second guessing and at the edge of their seats biting their lips. This is all this topped off with an ending that totally took me by surprise and that I didn’t seem coming from a mile away. And finally, what I’m predicting is going to be a posthumous award nomination for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Who was and always will be one of the truly greatest actors of our time. Even in his not so good films he was always the best part about them. It’s almost as if a bad Philip Seymour Hoffman performance didn’t exist. And like in so many other films in this he is nothing short of breathtaking. I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am that this film was my final swan song with him and not his appearances in the supposedly not so good “God’s Pocket” as well as the upcoming entry in the “Hunger Games” series. Thank you Anton Corbijn and thank you Philip Seymour Hoffman. For every time I reflect back on this great actor’s career I’ll remember that my last dance with him was with this film. This is one that’s already earned itself a spot on my top 10 list (so far) of the greatest films I’ve seen this year. And one that’s recommended with a high stamp of approval.

Grade: B+/A-

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3 thoughts on “A Trip To The Movies: ‘A Most Wanted Man’ 9.26.14

  1. was hoping for a gripping political thriller like State of Play or Arbitrage. But unfortunately, A Most Wanted Man was boring; who cares about this, no built up tension, & overall just had a pretty uninvolving feel to it.

    I have always been a big Philip Seymour Hoffman fan but this was a disappointing last film for him in my opinion.
    & I would go as far as saying; I even liked him better in a movie like Along Came Polly more than I did in this one.

    Rachel McAdams’ performance was the one highlight of the movie.
    This was very slow. Way too many slow patches that made it almost maddening to watch.
    73/C-

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    1. See I felt like it was a taut, gripping thriller much like the 2 films you named. But then again, like I think I hinted at in the review, I like the slow-burning, almost old school political thrillers from Europe and the 1970’s. I remember you saying you didn’t like “The American”. Another film by the same director as this one. I actually thought it was completely underrated and a lot of people found it to be “too slow” or “snail paced” as I think you put it. See I rarely almost never see a film that I would describe as that. There are films that are a lot more patient than others. Which in today’s film climate and in society overall, makes these kinds of films difficult to watch because our brains have been wired into the “I want something to happen now”/instant gratification mode. Most people (and I’m not saying just you) equate something that takes it’s time in telling a story to have negative connotations. Take for example “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Forward”. One of my top 25 favorite films of all time but one that people consider to be incredibly slow. I personally find its 2 hr 45 min run time to be too short. And love the way in which it takes its absolute sweet ass time in delivering the story, with only the occasional break from or scene of action every 45 minutes or so. To me that “slowness” a lot of the time can be a good thing. It allows for the avid film viewer to develop a sense of patience to allow things to happen at their own speed without any preconceived notions of when they “should”. And I felt that way particularly about this movie too.

      I really liked Hoffman’s character. His smart yet naive counterintelligence operative is another complex, multi-layered work from the late actor. And without ruining it for anyone else who may read this. I thought the tepidly paced build up was perfect in relation to the context of the film. What really did for me in regards to this movie was the last scene/closing shot. It dupes the audience into thinking what they thought the movie was about the whole time was something entirely different. Then in the few days following it I continued to think about it and more or less felt like the pieces to it fit perfectly like a glove.

      But hey, like I always say, we might not agree on certain films. That’s the best part of film criticism. My major objective is to turn you on to or hopefully expose you to something that you might find to be particularly interesting that might have flown under your radar otherwise.

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  2. B for me, John La Cerre who wrote the book has that Robert Ludlum thriller type down pat. You know me and PSH everything he pretty much touches is gold to me, and a nice homage to the end of his film career cut too short here. One qualm I had with this was American actors playing foreign parts. Not sure why Corbijn didn’t cast Eurpean actors for the roles, would have been more beleiveable. Hoffman’s character carried it and a suprise ending didn;t see coming which had a nice shock value to it. Also the Tom Waits “Hoise that Rag” running in the final credits a very nice touch. Corbijn continues to be a director you have to follow with whatever he touches imo, and his next one with Robert Pattinson about a journalist who follows James Deen around for Life Magazine looks very interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing it.

    Liked by 1 person

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