Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

Film: A Most Wanted Man (2014)
Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Daniel Bruhl
Director: Anton Corbijn
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

There are occasionally festival titles that slip quietly into the dark.  They have that aura of important but not quite going to score at the Oscars or other awards ceremonies.  Therefore, they would normally be relegated to On Demand and randomly show up in your Netflix "we recommend" list but only the most loyal of theater patrons would catch it (the retired people who see a matinee four times a week and the like...the people I hope to be when I retire).

However, on occasion something happens to make a particular film noteworthy, which is what happened when Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away earlier this year, making A Most Wanted Man not some random John le Carre adaptation with strong reviews but little buzz, but instead the final leading role of one of the most celebrated actors of his generation.  Hoffman's presence in this film gives it an interesting anecdotal footnote, and while he has the final Hunger Games films left, this is likely his last significant acting contribution.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film takes a while to get off the ground.  Like John Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, this is a film for the mind, not just for the senses, and unlike your average spy and espionage thriller, you're left with very few action sequences (which makes the final scene a bit jarring, but in a good way because it's the only truly quick moment in the movie).  However, unlike Tinker, I don't feel like this film quite joins the great pantheon of spy thrillers.

The problem may lie in the casting, to be honest.  Hoffman is brilliant as a man shut off from society for decades, spending his lifetime trying to track terrorists and devoting all of himself to a job that will eventually spit out his soul after chewing on it for a few decades.  Rachel McAdams, though, is fatally miscast.  Of all of the bad German accents in the film, hers is the worst (Daniel Bruhl, I feel, should have done a bit more coaching with the cast).  I personally feel like McAdams has made a career of bad decisions onscreen, frequently going dramatic when her chops are comedic, and quite frankly, I don't think I've ever seen a film where she was actually any good except for Mean Girls.  That continues with this particular film, where she's out of her element against Dafoe and Hoffman, both of whom are able to be subdued without becoming washed out (something McAdams seems incapable of doing).

It's also worth noting that the setup to the film isn't as strong as Tinker (which is admittedly a bit unfair-Tinker being Le Carre's magnum opus novel), as the first thirty minutes the film seems to have started almost fifteen minutes into the movie.  This sometimes happens when the audience (read: me) isn't as familiar with what is going on onscreen, but I have a feeling that this was also a bit in the delivery as there is little to no character introduction in the opening scenes except with McAdams' character, and Hoffman's character is operating entirely in his world of shadows, so he doesn't quite need the unknowable aspect of his Bachmann that we get to start the movie.

Still, though, the last thirty minutes are an extremely intense ride, and makes you re-evaluate the way that you handle the nameless faces that appear in front of you on CNN and in the papers.  We spend an entire film with a man who has been arrested and tortured and appears innocent, and then slips quietly into the night at the end of the film in an act of extraordinary rendition.  It is haunting in the way that someone can slip quietly into the night, little to no justice, forever gone.  It's a truly memorable ending, particularly the final moments with Hoffman's Bachmann returning to work, realizing that what he does can never change the course of history in a real way, and that he has resigned himself to potentially being one of the bad guys.

Those were my thoughts on this interesting, though not quite marvelous movie.  What were yours?  Do you also feel that the film improved as it went along?  Do you think this is a strong final note for Hoffman's career (even if we all would have preferred it happening much later)?  And what are your general thoughts on Rachel McAdams and her bizarrely sporadic career?  Share in the comments!

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