Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Most Wanted Man

How fitting that Philip Seymour Hoffman's last role (ruling out the heavily CGIed Hunger Game sequels) should be done entirely in a German accent. Actually, I don't know that it's fitting at all. It is rather fitting, however, that he plays a fat, pasty, stressed-out, wheezing, heavy-drinking, fatty-food eating, chain-smoking workaholic.

Method acting, man. It is to actors what airplanes are to rock stars.

But then, maybe Hoffman's condition had nothing to do with this role, and he was just making poor lifestyle choices in general. He does not look healthy, no sir, not at all.

Whatever the truth, we can safely assess that the critic adoration of A Most Wanted Man is greatly influenced by PSH shuffling off his mortal coil. It's a good performance, sure; he seldom turned in a bad one. But it's not his best.

The story (which takes place in Germany) revolves around Hoffman's (illegal per German law) surveillance of a potential terrorist, a Chechen who has fled Russia and seems to be trying to hook up with a philanthropist doctor who may be funnelling some of his charity money to terrorist groups in the Middle East. Bachmann (Hoffman's character) and his hot, yet probably murderous assistant Ima Frey (Nina Hoss, Barbara) have a pretty good idea of what's going on, but they lack definitive evidence, and their ambition is to turn Karpov (the terrorist, played by Grigory Dobrygin, or should I say Григорий Добрыгин) and possibly the doctor as well. (And at this point, I'm out on the foreign actors names. The doctor may have been the guy from The Kite Runner, I don't know.)

Bachmann is battling a dickish local intel guy, the bitchy and possibly evil CIA agent (Robin Wright), and Karpov's lawyer, Annabel (the shall-we-say-lightly-accented Rachel McAdams), who's kind of got a thing for this Chechen, who cleans up real nice by the end of the film. Bachmann extorts possibly evil banker Willem Defoe, both through family history and his obvious attraction to Annabel, and ultimately Annabel herself becomes part of his ridiculously circuitous plan.

John Le Carré wrote the screenplay based on his novel and executive produced, and does this guy hate America or what? He seems to hate Germans as well, but he really hates America.

That may be the other reason that the critics loved this movie. You don't have to hate America to enjoy it, mostly, but there's a scene with Bachmann and Sullivan (Wright) are arguing about extraordinary rendition. Bachmann asks why she doesn't just grab Karpov off the street and she replies, defensively, "We don't do that anymore."

Take that W!

Sure we don't. And I'm sure the Germans never did, or at least stopped. And I'm sure we don't outsource that sort of thing for deniability, either. Nosiree.

I dunno. I think if a move wants to be a smart spy thriller, it shouldn't have seasoned agents having a debate that sounds like it would be at home on MSNBC.

And Bachmann doesn't retort with the "No, now you just drone them" which would be the obvious response to an attempt to assert moral superiority, but not one that would reflect well on the current administration. And spy thrillers need well-delineated good guys and bad guys as badly as cowboy movies did, even if they necessarily draw the lines differently.

Bachmann is clearly our hero, by the way, but he's sort of an accidentally comical figure. At one point, he kidnaps Annabel to do convince her to help him persuade Karpov to do what he wants. But here's the dumb thing: Because he's the good guy, and what he wants Karpov to do really is the right thing, and Karpov really seems to want to do that, and Bachmann knows this, one is left wondering why he didn't just call Annabel on the phone and talk to her rather than, you know, throw a bag over her head and yank her off the street.

Personally, I'd think that sort of action would be counter-productive. One might be less inclined to believe that someone had your best intentions at heart after such an action. I can only assume this scene exists to demonstrate the moral ambiguities involved in spy work, but in a guardedly apolitical way. (In other words, spying raises challenging issues, but you should by no means consider those if they mean you might find sympathy with Bush or lose it with Obama.)

But I don't expect even-handedness, or even a nod toward the sort of cohesion a little common sense would provide from the hack who wrote The Constant Gardener. So, overall, I thought it was acceptable as movie fare.

The Boy also thought it was decent, though he didn't like the pacing. True, the movie had a lot of potentially tense scenes that played out rather straightforwardly, and was rather sparing with the suspense. The effect was a little dulling.

It was at least easier to follow than the last Le Carre effort, at least.

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