Review: A Most Wanted Man

A troubling, quiet but politically charged spy thriller starring the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his final leading role.
After the attack on New York’s Trade Centre in 2001 the dock city of Hamburg in Germany was identified as a security risk; allowing those responsible for the attacks access to the western world and continues to do so for other Islamic extremists. Hoffman plays as the head of a small German spy network who feels personally responsible for the city’s increased security.
But when one suspicious man appears from the docks his spy team leap into action, but while the man appears inoffensive, red flags are raised when he attempts to acquire a huge amount of money from a local bank. Things are made worse for Hoffman when the American CIA come to intervene.
Spy work is often over dramatised, indulgent on the action or romanticized, but A Most Wanted Man is none of those things. While Hoffman’s target is of ambiguous intent or purpose throughout the film, we see the security organisations fighting over the moral actions they should take while monitoring his movements. The need to spy from a distance and learn more about terrorist cells, against the need to clamp down immediately on any suspects before they can cause devastation.
Things become even more complicated when a young social worker, a self-styled lawyer, takes the immigrant into her care in hope of giving him a new life in the country.
It is a fascinating film purely from the characters and the organisations they answer to, as well as a contemporary look at what our society acts upon and what governments consider just cause. This actually provides most of the conflict rather than simply making it a racial struggle like most other stories of this type would.
The characters are all given backstories and motivations for their actions without ham-fistedly ramming flashbacks or monologues into our faces. Hoffman is excellent throughout, and Willem Dafoe is always a good addition in my opinion.
Everything is very muted and quiet. This isn’t an action movie, or a chase movie, it is slow and steady in pacing and this might lose some audiences expecting something else. Personally I found its character work and slow build very intriguing and the ending was excellent.

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