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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

To make the world a safer place

A Most Wanted

Plot Overview

Mohamed Atta, who masterminded the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, conducted much of his plan­ning in the north German port city of Hamburg. It continues to be a hot­bed of extremist activity. Burning the mid­night oil to thwart terrorism is one Günther Bachmann (Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man) who having lost some agents in Beirut (“Men who trusted you died”) has been reassigned to some ragtag outfit with plaus­ible deni­ability operating out of Hamburg. With his team of a computer-savvy agent Maxi­milian (Daniel Brühl) & female maven Irna Frey (Nina Hoss), they have unearthed Dr. Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), a respected Muslim community leader and fund raiser, some of whose funds have mysteriously disappeared before arriving at their assigned destination. Very suspicious. But no proof of funding terrorism. Günther's superior Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock) in German intelligence wants more.

Washing up illegally on the shore is a disreputable looking half-Chechen, half-Russian Muslim named Issa Karpov (Grigoryi Dobrygin). Legal scholar Robert K. Tanenbaum has described Chechens thus: (34)

Chechens are … Ethnically different from Russians. More Asian than Slav, and mostly Muslim. They also speak their own language but will use Russian as a common language. …

Chechen nationalists feel that the United States has joined the Russian govern­ment in siding against them. They're also Muslim, an alliance with al Qaeda seems likely.

Mohr wants him reeled in. Günther persuades him to let them watch him awhile instead (“You have 72 hours”), in hopes of catching a bigger fish (“Trust me. You're doing the right thing.”) But Günther is assigned an American observer (“I've been observed by Americans before”) CIA operative Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright). Issa contacts immigration lawyer and human rights activist Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) to apply for refugee status. He doesn't relish returning to a Turkish prison he just left, much less a Russian one where the Americans would send him. Rachel is uncertain enough about his motivations to not fight for him as hard as a lawyer should.

It turns out Issa has the bona fides and instruments to claim his father's “ill-gotten millions” making him look like a terrorist money man. How­ever, he disavows interest in the money making him look like a beleaguered victim. Günther's big idea is to use him as a “tethered goat” to donate the money to Dr. Abdullah's charities and trace where it goes. They'll grease Issa's application if he goes along. Dr. Abdullah must accept the dough, who follows “Allah's way” (“Charity is one of the five pillars of Islam”) despite the Quran forbidding dirty money donations:

(II. Medina.)

O ye who believe! expend in alms of the good things that ye have earned, and of what we have brought forth for you out of the earth, and do not take the vile thereof to spend in alms,-what you would not take your­selves save by con­nivance at it; but know that Allah is rich and to be praised.

Complicating the picture is Günther's inside man Jamal Abdullah (Mehdi Dehbi), who's also Faisal's son who must be convinced to betray his father to the tender mercies of Günther who will make him his asset as well. All of this is being observed by the Americans of whom it was said, “Usually it doesn't end well.”

With so many lines in the water, they're bound to get fouled on each other. When Issa hid out in a car park, one car had conspicuously written on its window: P. Notre. When events take a turn, the Muslims employ the pater­noster: In sha' Allah—the will of Allah. Günther similarly uses ­one: “FUCK!”


Near the opening the camera zooms in on a crystal goblet of white wine so as to take up the whole screen with the bubbly, like a still life picture. If the wine takes up all the space, cigarettes will claim the whole time, Günther lighting one after another and smoking them down to the fag end. What's more is aside from some occasional in-scene music, there is no back­ground music—except at the very end—and the dialogue is sparse (but intense.) Nature abhors a vacuum. If we're not in an audio-visual environment, this movie puts us in an olfactory-visual one, enticing us to imagine we're in a smoke-filled room. Günther in fact smokes even in a closed interro­gation room, in a sealed surveil­lance van, and shut up in a car. If you turned off the sound, you'd think the movie was about smoking and drinking. If you turned the sound back on, it would still be about smoking and drinking, so strong is this ambiance.

This screen smoke sets us up for the scene where Issa must prove to his lawyer that he'd really been tortured, by baring his torso. Those little ciga­rette burns on his flesh make the imagined smoke cringe­worthy. It's a variation on the aphorism, (Eccl. 10:1) “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.” The flies may be little but they make the ointment stink. The burns are but spots but they make the atmos­phere odious. Just as “a little folly” doth ruin a man's rep. In this case Dr. Abdullah is, as Bachmann puts it, “A good man who has a little bad in him.” His lectures ask, “Are you afraid, my friends, of Islam? Violence against the inno­cent is not the way of Allah.” There's a whole laundry list of legit. charities that do benefit from the donations he receives … and one “substitution.” “According to the book, jihad prohibited the harming of women and children, yet bombs detonated in civilian popu­lations didn't discrim­inate between gender and age” (Tanenbaum 71).

His “substitution” supports “the big picture of Islamic jihad and the drastic measures and sacrifices it will take to achieve a world-encompassing Islamic state. … ¶“Once in control of the world's most important oil supply and with nuclear capabilities nearing completion in Iran, the Caliph would unleash the world­wide jihad in which all Muslims would be obligated to rise up and destroy the infidels wherever they lived. All those who survived but would not bend to the teachings of the Prophet would be put to the sword. In sha' Allah … God willing” (Tanenbaum 70–71). Günther has “the big picture” in mind when he tries to catch the big fish. His boss(es) seems more interested in demonstrating progress against terror, with the little fishes.

In the Silbersack bar a man gets rough with his girl, and Günther inter­venes hitting him. The girl tells him it's okay, to chill out. It seemed like a situation worthy of action, but not really. The bar song in the back­ground was, appropriately enough, “Sea of Love.” The one who arrived by sea was Issa of whom Günther facetiously remarked, “Maybe he's the Son of God come to save us.”

Production Values

“A Most Wanted Man” (2014) is based on the popular 2008 John le Carré novel, A Most Wanted Man. The screenplay was written by Australia's Andrew Bovell. It stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rachel McAdams. All the actors realistic­ally portrayed their roles, but Robin Wright seemed blase in her part … but then she was trying to hide her true colors as spies often do.

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA) rated it R for language. The dialogue is almost entirely in (lightly accented) English. It was filmed in Berlin, Germany, with location shots in Hamburg. Benoit Delhomme's cinema­tog­raphy does credit to the clandestine services, using hand-held cameras, long shot durations, and unbroken takes. This is an atmospheric not an action film.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

I rather like John le Carré books so long as I don't read too many of them; it can seem boring if you're expecting a lot of action. Knowing the source I was comfort­able enough with this film credited as being a thriller, and there is some of that with­out the genre's usual blood­shed. If your expectations are geared to intel­lectual games, this one should suit you just fine.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Bible quotation from the King James Version. Pub. 1611. Rev. 1769. Software.

550 AD, THE KORAN, Translated by E.H. Palmer. Web.

Tanenbaum, Robert K. Counterplay. New York: Atria Books, 2006. Print