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Undercover In Hamburg Tracks A Most Wanted Man

Updated on April 5, 2015

In the post-9/11 world, the world's intelligence community, agents have been forced to take a more active approach to activity they'd watch with suspicion. A Most Wanted Man follows the activities of an agent and his team in Hamburg. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as Gunther Bachmann, a German intelligence agent monitoring the moves of Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a Russian-Chechan man with alleged terrorist ties to terrorist activities. He has slipped into Germany illegally, and his looks suggest he's been treated roughly. He first finds refuge with a sympathetic Muslim mother and son, who themselves live in the country illegally. While there, Issa reaches out to attorney Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), who specializes in immigration and human rights cases. Issa not only seeks asylum, but he has come to claim a large sum of money left to him by his late father, a corrupt former Soviet military man. Gunther already has an agent, Max (Daniel Bruhl), tailing Issa before he meets Rachel. She knows this, and takes him to a more secure location. Gunther's boss, Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock), though, wants Gunther to make a quick arrest, but Gunther wants to see if Issa will help lead them to bigger players suspected of imvolvement of terrorist acts.

Gunther gets temporary permission to let events unfold, thanks to a visit from American operative Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), who'd like to see what Bachmann and his team can learn. That means that Gunther's team have to put the heat on Annabel, whom they apprehend while she's making her rounds. He makes a deal to get Annabel to cooperate. He also has to work with Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe), a banker who holds the funds Issa seeks. Gunther convinces Tommy to work with Annabel so Issa can get his money. Issa tells Annabel he wants his money donated to Islamic causes, and puts his trust to the money's disbursement in Dr. Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), a prominent educator and business leader who's suspected in using a business as a front to finance terrorists. With the clock ticking, Gunther and his team want to see if Abdullah honors Issa's wishes for the money.

A Most Wanted Man is based on the John Le Carre work of the same name. The film takes a hard, but compelling, look at the way the western world deals with threats in an era of present concerns and tensions. The film never shows Issa or Dr. Abdullah either making plots or making threats against anyone. The fighting (of sorts) lies with Gunther and others interested in Issa. Not only do the Germans have different expectations among their various factions, but the Americans have a different expectation than the Germans. The screenplay adaptation from Andrew Bovell, while predictable, succeeds in showing how much of a covert operation consists of things that are not said openly. The direction comes from one-time video director Anton Corbijn, whose previous film, The American (2010), dealt with a different kind of covert operation. Gunther knows he's under pressure to deliver results, but he wants to make sure that he delivers the best results possible.

A Most Wanted Man, sadly, marks the final lead role in the 25-year film career of Hoffman, who left a resume filled with distinguished performances, including this one. Gunther's a man who's not supposed to grow attached to anyone on any side, yet he holds the memories of the colleagues he lost on a mission that went wrong in Beirut. As a result, Gunther finds himself torn between doing right and doing good. On top of that, people rely on him to do his surveillance on a faster schedule than he'd like. Gunther believes that Annabel does her work for humanitarian efforts. He lets her know, though, of Issa's purported past, and lets her know that in an effort to ensure her cooperation. She helps Gunther to understand whether Issa has become a man of peace or not. The demands of such a life show in Gunther's perpetually sad expressions and appearance. I also admire Wright as Sullivan, who likes the idea of letting Gunther do his work without so much pressure for a resolution. Dafoe also offers fine supporting work as Tommy, who agrees to work with Gunther, even though Issa's paperwork for the money isn't completely in order. McAdams is fine as the trusting Annabel, while Dobrygin and Ershadi are soild as the Muslims under the proverbial microscope.

A tale of a man and his team who live on a sense of heightened alert is skillfully told in A Most Wanted Man. During this movie, viewers can wonder which of the men Gunther Bachmann and his team monitor is truly the most wanted of the two. He'd like to see if Karpov or Abdullah lead them to people actively involved in terrorism. In the end, viewers can decide what, if anything, was accomplished in the effort to control those who wish to make the world unsafe for those who don't share their world view.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give A Most Wanted Man 3.5 stars. Showing the business of the spy business.


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