A Most Wanted Man – An important film, not very good though
UK Release by Momentum Pictures – 12th September 2014
Directed by Anton Corbijn
Brief Synopsis: A private detective and his team are located in Hamburg and concentrate their efforts on the international war on terror. When a Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg, all forces become caught up in a case of vast interest and importance.
A Most Wanted Man is happy to plod along and cover every little detail resulting in a rather stodgy and belated middle act. Yet, we still wish to anticipate every movement with excitement even if a fulfilling reply isn’t lurking around the corner. I believe a sustainable interest is largely due to the relevance of this films nature; it is a powerful encapsulation of the international war on terror. But, for the rousing territory of film, it is a minor nutshell; it becomes a shallow grave with no soil; there is no shovel for each character; the chemistry vanishes. And, whilst the ending is somewhat refreshing for the big screen, it places them and us exactly where we left off.
I do not doubt Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s brilliance; he is the parcel, the entire package. His character Gunther offers a bundle of subtle feelings if we can be open to their interpretation. The problem is I feel as though Corbijn simply hasn’t given Hoffman enough to play with other than a cigarette that appears in every shot. His character is morose, monotone and clearly reaching the edge of a hopeless spindle. Yet, I could watch Hoffman on screen for hours on end, passion seeps through his performance and allows the character to continue picking away at his work. I would mention life in replace of work, but it appears his life simply is work; although, there is one domestic scene in which Hoffman plays the piano late one night, it is surprisingly powerful and suggests a buried artist underneath the tough, worn skin. Whatever else is buried certainly makes a much-needed appearance in the final scene of the film; no matter how stale parts of the film may be, we will never forgot this (his – Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s) very last scene.
I wish Daniel Bruhl was given more screen-time, he was magnificent in Rush yet here he is a pawn whose character gets to watch the CCTV and mutter a few lines. Rachel McAdams feels miscast as the social lawyer ‘in too deep’; she acts well, but frankly she is too beautiful for such a role, I don’t know, I just didn’t believe her. Willem Dafoe is always worthy, but the rest of the cast feels flat and partially idiotic at times. Lets just say, this team of private detectives would get busted in five seconds. Not to mention, the infuriating accents, it gets worse: in a couple of scenes they switch to German – one or the other please! Preferably, an all-German cast speaking German if the movie is set there and meant to be German civilians. I am reminded of the terrible accents in The Book Thief that could have been great; for me it ruins the authenticity in a picture.
The films pace and overall aesthetic feels uneven and without a clear direction. One shot might be handheld with a fast edit and the next an entirely rigged shot with a long take. This can work of course, but the complexion of this film either made things slower or overtly confusing when they should be simple. In other words, it doesn’t do anything to suggest or further the director’s vision. The narrative waves in and out, it thus keeps us on our toes, but it appears for all the wrong reasons. It is inevitable that watching Hoffman stagger across the screen is enough to fill the holes and happily get the viewer through the picture. It is a haunting feeling that when the credits roll, the realisation is goodbye.. a fine farewell for the man either way. An interesting point for me, the fact that his performance made me believe he was alive (in real life) as I was watching him is somehow a testament to what a great actor he is.