A Most Wanted Man movie review: intelligence afterscape

A Most Wanted Man green light

A smart, classy, slow-burn thriller made up of the stuff of authentic spy work and plenty of bitter irony about modern geopolitics.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Philip Seymour Hoffman (and the rest of the fab cast)

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Oh. For some reason I thought this tale of weary intelligence officers was set in East Berlin in the 1970s. Maybe it was the profusion of cheap suits and the grimy colors of the trailer. Maybe it was the fact that it’s based on a John le Carré novel. (I always associate him with Cold War spies, but this book was published in 2008.) Anyway, though director Anton Corbijn’s (The American) production does feel — in a deliciously thrilling way — more like one of those slow-burn spy dramas set decades ago, it turns out that here we’re in post-9/11 Hamburg, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (God’s Pocket) is heading up an elite but hush-hush antiterrorism unit for German intelligence. The connections of the city with some of the 9/11 hijackers has them on their toes and on the lookout for the next big terror plot, so when a Chechen refugee with a dubious past (Grigoriy Dobrygin) turns up in town, alarms are raised. Is he an asylum seeker or a would-be terrorist? You can guess which sides human-rights lawyer Rachel McAdams (About Time) and CIA spook Robin Wright (The Congress) come down on. Hoffman carries the weary weight of reasonableness on his shoulders: the film is hugely critical of American aggression in dealing with potential security problems, and here it’s the Germans — the Germans! — who are a model of restrained discretion by comparison. This smart, classy film is made up of the stuff of authentic spy work — endless paperwork and lots of sitting around surveilling suspects, which prompts overuse of booze and cigarettes — and plenty of bitter irony about modern geopolitics and the intersections of organized crime and international conflict. The final exhausted moment of the film, simple yet haunting, serves as both a commentary on the state of the world and a striking tribute to Hoffman in his final performance.

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