While most of the summer spy movies are steeped in quick cuts and a found footage look, A Most Wanted Man slows things down with a political intrigue thriller and a pacing that at times can keep up with the big budgets films thanks to a fantastic performance by leading man Philip Seymour Hoffman.
In the movie, a Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg, where he gets caught in the international war on terror. In the battlegrounds is Gunther (Hoffman) and his secret secret organization that includes Irna (Nina Hoss) and Maximilian (Daniel Bruhl). The Chechen, named Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin), finds help in a lawyer, Annabel (Rachel McAdams), who takes his case on and tries to secure his inheritance he is seeking from a bank run by Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe).
While the cast is relatively stacked, this is Hoffman’s movie. He commands the screen every second he is on it and crafts the character Gunther with as many layers as the intrigue with Issa goes. It is the subtle things; the drinks, the small comments, and the work obsession that makes the character more interesting than just a spy working to keep himself afloat in the tireless game.
Hoffman’s character keeps to his subtleties and isn’t one to make a giant show of anything, at least until he is screwed over.
The plot moves at a slower pace, reminiscent of most European spy movies, but has a pacing that makes it a quicker watch than Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy or George Clooney’s The American where the story slows down for more intimate, personal moments with the characters. A Most Wanted Man still affords those, usually in small doses between Hoffman and Robin Wright as the CIA operative Martha Sullivan, as the two try and size the other up.
McAdams surprises as a strong adversary for Hoffman at first that becomes a valuable ally. Her scenes with Dobrygin have chemistry as the latter plays the part with a quiet and reserved sincerity while McAdams’ Annabel tries anything she can to reach out to the poor man. These scenes, particularly in his hideout, have small amounts of tension but bring some heart and emotion into the story that seems grey most of the time.
A Most Wanted Man appears like most of the European spy exports but sports a quicker pace and strong performance by the late, great Hoffman to power it into an entertaining and engaging bit of modern espionage.