A Most Wanted Man
The man sneaks into Germany under the cover of darkness. He has no passport, no driver's license, no identification at all. Bearded and bedecked in a dingy jacket, he looks like just one more of Hamburg's countless homeless. No one knows him as he shuffles past, eyes locked on the sidewalk. They probably barely see him.
Well, unless they work for an intelligence agency. Then they know Issa Karpov quite well.
Issa hasn't been in the city for a day before the Germans identify him on a security camera. Before he's had his first meal, they're scouring his dossier: Chechen. Estranged son of a dead Russian general. Escaped jihadist. Yes, they know all about Issa, or at least they think they do. And the fact that he's popped up in Hamburg—the same city in which the 9/11 attacks against the U.S. were planned—is a concern.
They watch as Issa connects with Annabel Richter, an idealistic lawyer who specializes in getting citizenship for tough-luck immigrants. They watch as the Muslim man reaches out to his father's old bank—one known to dabble in money laundering. They could take Issa off the streets—arrest him or send him away. Many say they should.
But Günther Bachmann, a shadowy spy from a barely acknowledged intelligence offshoot, wonders. Sure, they know a great deal about Issa … except why he's actually in Hamburg. They don't know his plans. Their cameras can't pick out bad intentions as easily as a face. And even if Issa is bent on trouble, Günther believes the man might be as much an asset as a threat. Taking down these disposable terrorists—these minnows—is one thing. But what if you used a minnow to catch a bigger fish? Wouldn't the risk be worth it?
Günther aims to find out.
Günther shares coffee with another operative, American Martha Sullivan. They commiserate about some of the fine ethical lines they're forced to walk, the risks they take, the enemies they make. And Günther asks her if she's ever thought about why she does what she does. Martha says she always comes back to the same answer:
"To make the world a safer place. Isn't that enough?"
It mirrors Günther's own philosophy. He too is in this high-stakes spy game to make the world a safer place. And he actually wants to do so while trying to hold to an ethical code that even some of his good-guy fellows don't share.
When it seems as though Issa is more victim than terrorist, Günther maneuvers behind the scenes to use the lad (albeit unknowingly) to trap a higher-level extremist, all while promising Annabel that he'll try to protect Issa from deportation. And when he apprehends that higher-level extremist, he hopes to turn him, too—protecting the man's reputation and the portion of his work that's above board while using him to go after others who are even more dangerous.
The people Günther's chasing, he believes, aren't faceless enemies, but people who've made (or are making) grave mistakes. He sees himself as a savior of sorts, rescuing them from their own worst inclinations. And when Günther gives his word, he says "I want it to mean something."
The man is hardly a perfect example of moral purity, granted. But in the confines of his strange and duplicitous job, Günther wants to suss out whatever moral high ground there is and then try to stand upon it.
Much of the story deals with Islam, particularly radical Islam, and it stresses that there's a big difference between the religion observed by most of the world's Muslims and the extremist sects bent on jihad. But it also shows how the two can sometimes overlap.
We see people pray to Mecca, both in mosques and elsewhere. It's said that if a man would but "choose the path of Allah," he would find peace in his heart. A wealthy activist named Faisal tells an auditorium full of people that extremist movements are "not the way of Allah," and he serves as something of an advocate for a number of Islamic charities. Günther also speaks of the will of Allah. When Issa contemplates giving up an ill-gotten fortune, he says he doesn't need it because "I have God."
Günther snidely suggests that maybe Issa is "the son of God and he's come to save us." Issa claims that a terrorist bombing was "the will of God." Annabel angrily retorts, "God's will or just a man arrogant enough to kill in His name?"
Issa is attracted to Annabel, and he kisses her shoulder before he remembers himself and tells her to leave, lest her presence inflame his passions. She does. Günther and his small team of spies watch as Issa then pours cold water on himself.
We learn that Issa was the result of the rape of a 15-year-old girl. Günther accuses a banker of wanting to have sex with Annabel. When one of Günther's female operatives, Erna, asks if he's attracted to somebody, Günther tells her that she's more his type—and they kiss as part of a spying operation.
Police crash into an Islamic home and throw a young man against a wall. A woman is nabbed off the streets: A black bag is thrown over her head and she's muscled, kicking and screaming, into a van. Cars crash into a taxi and someone is dragged out of the back seat. Police wrestle a struggling man to the ground. Günther punches out a guy who was harassing a woman.
Issa lifts up his shirt to reveal horrible scars on his back—the aftermath of his stints in punishing prisons. Günther talks about losing good people. An argument between Günther and a rival involves heated talk about who is responsible for "blood in the streets."
Crude or Profane Language
About 15 f-words, one or two s-words and a smattering of other profanities, including one or two uses each of "b--tard," "d--n," "h---" and "p---." Jesus' name is abused twice. An obscene gesture is made.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Günther smokes cigarettes and drinks a lot. (Whiskey is his beverage of choice.) He frequents scads of bars as part of his job. Before bed, a woman tells her husband, "Enjoy your scotch, Tommy. And try not to fall over on your way to bed."
Other Negative Elements
One of Philip Seymour Hoffman's final acting turns, A Most Wanted Man, is a mature, measured look at the modern cloak-and-dagger trade in which the primary weapons are surveillance cameras and James Bond is nowhere to be seen. It's a subtle, sometimes slow tale, one in which the most exciting, nerve-wracking scene involves nothing more than the signing of a sheet of paper.
What's written on that paper may be either good or bad. I won't give that away. But I will say that much is made of good and bad in A Most Wanted Man. "Every good man has a little bit of bad, doesn't he?" Martha tells Günther. We're shown that villains aren't altogether bad and good guys aren't altogether good. Motives and ideals and temptations flit across the screen like sunlight on the water, applied as they are to bad decisions, not bad people. Not, at least, for the most part.
But Martha's line, with a little tweak, could be used to describe A Most Wanted Man itself. When we speak of content concerns, this is a surprisingly good film with bad elements, primarily foul language. And just as one bad decision is liable to get an otherwise good person thrown in the clink, so this bad element was enough to brand this flick with an R rating.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Günther Bachmann; Rachel McAdams as Annabel Richter; Willem Dafoe as Tommy Brue; Nina Hoss as Erna Frey; Robin Wright as Martha Sullivan; Grigoriy Dobrygin as Issa Karpov; Mehdi Dehbi as Jamal
Anton Corbijn ( The American)
July 25, 2014
November 4, 2014