A Most Wanted Man comes from the writer of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (John le Carré) and the director of The American (Anton Corbijn). It is typical lé Carré and Corbijn fair – heavy dialog, subtle hints, understated conflicts, and a heavy dose of international intelligence agencies fighting with each other. This time it’s over a Russian refugee as each agency seems to have a different answer as to if he is a threat or an asset.
There are two interesting conflicts that get explored in the film. The first being can you REALLY trust anyone? This goes beyond just trying to figure out if the Russian refugee is a terrorist or not. It’s tested between the multiple agencies as they try to play each other and between certain characters as well. Can an asset really trust his handler?
The second conflict is a bit more convoluted and where the film will lose a lot of people. To steal a line from the film, you use a fish to catch a barracuda, a barracuda to catch a shark. In other words, leverage small time terrorists to find the big ones. Then use the big ones to get to their financial backers. The spy game is in essence using people until they are no longer valuable then finding new ones to use.
So what happens when one agency’s barracuda is another’s shark? Which agency gets the prime choice? Who determines whether or not a person is or is no longer valuable?
There are a stable of incredible actors to pull off this film – Philip Seymoour Hoffman being at the center of them all. In his last starring role, Hoffman pulls off a gem of a performance as a mumbling, grumpy German spy. Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, and William Dafoe round out the cast and each add an incredible performance.
Fair warning though – the pace of the film is slow. Very slow. It’s not because the acting is wanting either. It’s how the story that is so disjointed and unfocused at the start of the film never finds its pace. The multiple story lines never find their pace or energy in the film. There never is a sense of urgency or tension to invite the audience into the story.
While the acting of Hoffman is incredible, it’s not enough to energize the film.