Movie Review: ‘A Most Wanted Man’ Is An “Intelligence” Thriller


The number one goal of any spy thriller should be to leave one thinking after it is finished. Sometimes this means to leave one thinking about the plot threads and whether it all came together. However, in most great spy thrillers, it means that it leaves you thinking about what it all meant. What was the bigger point? Why did these characters matter to me? What do I take out of this picture?

In most thrillers you can see this coming a mile away. You begin to feel the various threads coming together and then the inevitable surprise in the third act helps clarify what you already knew. In ‘A Most Wanted Man’ the big picture does not reveal itself until so late in the game that it may take some viewers breath away. Yet, the message is so clear that I don’t think they could have done it any other way and achieved such an impact. So, in the end, the picture and being one of the most vivid depictions of how intelligence works and doesn’t work in the 21st-century.

Sadly, most of the talk about this film will revolve around it possibly being Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last great performance. Which is very likely a true statement and it is certainly something that should be touted. However, I can’t help wonder, if he had lived would we be more inclined to discuss the films themes? Would he have joins director Anton Corbjin on an important discussion with Charlie Rose? Or wouldn’t of even got the same level of distribution? These are questions that can never be answered, but I can’t help wondering.

Either way, I think Mr. Hoffman would be happy with the finished product. Reason being, it is a really well made film about the truth of our intelligence system and why we continue to fail. I don’t want to give you to much of then story (I went into it knowing nothing). So, I will just let you in on the basics. The film opens on an unknown man entering the city of Hamburg. We will soon find out that this man is wanted by the Russian government for supposed acts of terrorism. The truth is much more complicated.

It is around this point that we meet Phillip Hoffman’s character, Gunter. Gunter is a spy of the most secret sort and he is after a very important target. However, he soon learns about the Russian terrorist, along with his plans to acquire a lot of money, and he sees an opportunity to use this to get his man. So, he decides to use a crooked banker named Thomas (Willem Dafoe) and a human rights lawyer named Annabel (Rachel McAdams) to lure the Russian terrorist into his game.

The rest I’m not giving away because that would ruin part of the fun. Yet, the truth is that this movie is not meant to be much fun. It is not a silly spy thriller that wants to make you jump or bounce your mind around. It is a serious look at what great intelligence officers do to keep us safe and how the bureaucratic nonsense holds the world back from a long lasting peace. This is a must see for anyone that cares about intelligence and a fitting send off to one of our greatest actors.

Nathan Ligon
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