Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) is half Russian, half Chechen and ashamed of his father's Russian nationality, but his father was a very rich man and Issa has a lot of money owed to him in inheritance. He is also being watched as he shows up in Hamburg on the run, believing he has escaped his tormentors who tortured him in the prisons he had landed in but actually the German anti-terrorist officials, led by Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman), are well aware of his movements and keen to see what he does next. There's a lot of money at stake, after all, and that fortune of millions in Euros could fund a lot of terrorism which Issa appears to be sympathetic to, so will he hand it over to someone who can put it to evil use?
You get the impression with A Most Wanted Man that the filmmakers felt they had a work with something important to say about the state of the world, in particular the fabric of the spy networks and their opposite, the terrorism networks and the manner in which they danced around one another, waiting for the right time to strike and cause as much damage as possible. But then something happened a week after the premiere: its star Philip Seymour Hoffman died, which made headlines across the globe since he was so highly regarded as one of the most excellent proponents of his art in contemporary film, and suddenly this wasn't the movie with the important message anymore.
Well, it was, but it was more the final movie completed by a hugely respected actor before his untimely death while still in his forties - he was part of the way through his last Hunger Games role when he died - and viewers began to seek clues in his performance to see if they could divine any flaws or indications as to what his condition was like. Yet Hoffman was such an immersive actor, working hard to lose himself in every role, that it was diffcult to work out any of his mental state from his stylings here, as Gunther's shambling, world weary demeanour and hoarse, Germanic growl were more his acting choices than they were a reflection on Hoffman's personality. One thing was certain, he truly held the film together as the unlikely heart of the piece.
Overall, this came across as an attempt at summoning up the respect for a John Le Carré adaptation that an earlier, though still recent, one had, which was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, with its handpicked cast, European director in Anton Corbijn, "realistic" world of espionage, and generally low key mood. It wasn't quite a slavish copy, as for a start it was set in modern Germany rather than the Europe of decades past and had pretensions to commentary on how the spy game had advanced, declined or even stayed much the same in the period since, which you more or less had to take as read was accurate as unless you had read up on the ins and outs of how governments tackle Islamic terrorism or the potential for it you would be led around by the plot instead of able to judge how authentic all this was; its lack of pizzazz contributed to that mundanity of dread, anyway.
With the subject matter the current headline grabber at the time it was released, you would hope this offered an insight into the methods implemented, yet it was a bleak picture it painted, most blatantly in that suffocating sense that no matter your sympathies, one side could easily use you against the other depending on what they wanted from you, that feeling of helplessness something almost every character suffers at some point, and translated to the audience into the bargain. Gunther, for all his machinations, genuinely does care about saving lives and saving people from themselves (every so often we'll be thrown a scene where, say, he breaks up a bar fight to illustrate this), and the lawyer Annabelle Richter (Rachel McAdams) who takes Issa's case shares the sentiment, though perhaps he and she are more alike than they realise in the long run. With a distinct lack of action, it was the low key conversations which moved this along, not everyone's idea of exciting cinema but then it was more contemplative than that, designed to provoke thought. Music by Herbert Grönemeyer.