Set in modern day Hamburg, A Most Wanted Man is the story of a Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a half-Chechen, half-Russian refugee, who has fled to Hamburg to claim his father’s ill gotten Soviet fortune from a private bank. Karpov is known by anti-terrorist groups and is spotted by a German espionage cell which seeks to gain intelligence of local Muslim groups. It is unknown what Karpov will do with the money and they prioritise him, due to his Islamic links. The cell is led by Günther Bachmann (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), after his Kiev network was blown he was placed in Hamburg as a punishment and is determined to prove his worth. The film is based off the novel of the same name by John le Carré, and like his other works, such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and A Constant Gardener, the story is subtle and enticing. A Most Wanted Man plays on the West’s current fears that there is a terrorist group working for al-Qaeda in every neighbourhood. The audience is guided down this dark path, deeper into mystery by the direction of Anton Corbijn. This thriller guides you to make your own decisions and conclusions, providing a fresh pace, unlike many of today’s films in which answers are thrown at you.
This was Hoffman’s final leading role before his death earlier this year. His performance is the highlight of the film, bringing le Carré’s character to life. A trove of subtle nuisances show Bachmann to be an alcoholic, always having a hipflask with him, but never fore fronted or mentioned, allowing the audience to piece it together over time, much like the rest of the film. Often displaying a calm and collective exterior, his inner desires and desperations are only shown sporadically, when the case starts to get away from him. Hoffman’s performance is as gripping as the narrative he is placed within. Rachel McAdams plays the role of Annabel Richter, a immigration lawyer who is contacted to help Karpov gain status in Germany as a legal refugee. Richter is the only person to create a relationship with Karpov whilst he is in Germany and this is used against her to try and root out the terrorists. McAdams character is conflicted and believable, providing a strong backing for Hoffman’s dominating performance.
The film is the epitome of an espionage thriller, a strong story with plenty of twists, turns and mystery. The film brings to light the question of how states should deal with these terrorist sympathisers. In this, America is shown to be a strong player on the world stage when it comes to dealing with terrorists. A Most Wanted Man brings to prominence the thoughts of the Bush administration, of whether torture and isolation were the best action to be taken when dealing with terrorists in a post 9/11 world. Corbijn’s direction is slow and methodical proving a chilling backdrop to Hoffman’s final performance.