Sunday, August 10, 2014

Review: "A Most Wanted Man"

A Most Wanted Man features Philip Seymour Hoffman's last leading role before his death in February. Critics have been fawning over his performance, though I am more lukewarm in my opinion. I am fed up with English-language films featuring non-Anglophone characters speaking English with a country-specific accent. A Most Wanted Man, based on John le Carré's 2008 novel, is set in Germany. Only one major character, played by Robin Wright, is assumed to be a native English speaker - as she is an American CIA agent. As the film continued, I was more and more frustrated by Hoffman, Rachel McAdams and Willem Dafoe all speaking English with glorified German accents. My anger likely stems from my appreciation of foreign films and the idea that films are watered-down for North American audiences. A Most Wanted Man is directed by Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbijn, whose last effort, 2010's The American, featured George Clooney in a film with dialogue in English and Italian. It is the ninth film to be adapted from a le Carré novel - the fourth since 2011 - with my favourite being Fernando Meirelles' 2005 film The Constant Gardener. I am just incredibly disappointed that the film, which is an international thriller - executive produced by le Carré - is so Anglo-centric. The film currently has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and I feel like it does not deserve such praise. Hoffman clearly looks ill-at-ease in his own skin. Wright's character is far too underused for the magnitude of the role. And even McAdams looks like she is focusing too much on sounding German while speaking English.  Maybe I would have enjoyed A Most Wanted Man more if I was prepared for the Germanized English.

Set in present day, Hamburg has become a modern entry point for terrorists from the East. Gunther Bachmann (Hoffman), a German intelligence agent for a clandestine unit, becomes aware of a young man who has surfaced in the city. This man, Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin),who is half-Chechen and half Russian, has arrived looking to claim his father's fortune. He is aided by a young immigration lawyer (McAdams) who must convince the bank owner (Dafoe) that Issa is truly the rightful heir. Robin Wright appears as a CIA agent looking to apprehend Issa and find answers for their own investigations.

As with most of John le Carré's stories, A Most Wanted Man is quite complex. At times during the last of his adaptations, 2011's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it was difficult to follow the plot. But at least the first twenty minutes of the film's 127 minute runt time was dedicated to laying the framework. Did this happen in A Most Wanted Man? No, not really. The screenplay was written by Andrew Bovell, an Australian whose writing credits include an early draft of Strictly Ballroom (1992), The Book of Revelation (2006) and Edge of Darkness (2010). It takes an exceptional amount of talent to construct a thriller - le Carré has written nearly two dozens novels since 1961 - and the same must be said for adapting or writing a screenplay. So much information is presented on screen - some of it logically and some of it haphazardly - and despite an intriguing story and a group of talented actors, A Most Wanted Man is unable to add up to anything I would call entertaining.

My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4.

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