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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: A Most Wanted Man

November 4th, 2014

A Most Wanted Man - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

A Most Wanted Man is famous for a really negative reason. It is one of the last films starring Philip Seymour Hoffman released after his untimely death. It earned incredible reviews and did really well at the box office for a limited release, but it wasn't able to break into truly wide releases. Is the movie as good as its reviews? Or were critics quick to praise the film for its significance in Philip Seymour Hoffman's life?

The Movie

Before the movie begins, we get an intertitle telling us about the 9/11 attacks and how Mahommad Atta conceived and planned the attacks while in Hamburg, Germany. He wasn't stopped, in part due to interdepartmental rivalries.

The film takes place in Hamburg, Germany, a harbor city. We see Issa Karpov illegally enter the country at the dock. Hamburg is also the city where Gunter Bachmann works. Gunter works in Germany's intelligence community and is trying to develop assets within the Muslim community. One such asset is Jamal, whom he has spying on Dr. Faisal Abdullah. Publicly, Dr. Abdullah is a philanthropist, but Gunter and some of his colleagues think he is funneling charity money to terrorist organizations. Gunter gets a big break when some of the analysts working for him find Issa Karpov on CCTV feeds. More importantly, they find him before other intelligence agencies find him.

This advantage doesn't last long, as soon another German intelligence agent, Dieter Mohr, and an American, Martha Sullivan, find him, both of whom want to move on Issa Karpov. On the other hand, Gunter wants to wait. He wants Karpov to contact whomever he is supposed to contact, so that they can move up the chain and find out if he is connected to someone and something more important.

Meanwhile, Karpov does begin to contact people, first a dubious character called only Admiral, but then a lawyer, Annabel Ritcher. He's looking for asylum in Germany after being tortured in Russia. He asks her to find Thomas Brue for him. He says Mr. Brue will help him. Who is Mr. Brue and why would he help Mr. Karpov? We are starting to get into spoiler territory here.

As I was watching this movie, I couldn't help but be reminded of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which I previously reviewed. This is not that surprising, as both movies were based on novels written by John Le Carre. Both movies take a much more realistic look at the work spies do and both movies have a ton of great acting. Both movies also have the same weaknesses, namely there are pacing issues. Even if you like the film, you have to admit the pacing is deliberate. On the downside, the mystery in A Most Wanted Man isn't as strong as the mystery in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. This is true, because the film doesn't focus solely on terrorism as is dealt with the interdepartmental rivalries mentioned in the opening intertitle. Personally, I think this was a fair trade-off for this movie. I wouldn't want every spy movie to be like this, but it is an import topic to see discussed. Also, you don't get a lot of emotional depth to the film. The main characters, including Gunter, are every closed off. His performance is excellent, but the character is so closed off that it might be difficult for some to get drawn into the story as a result. I don't think this is a serious issue, but it is something that needs to be mentioned.

The Extras

There are only two featurettes on the DVD and Blu-ray. The first is a 16-minute making of featurette, while the second is a 10-minute look at John Le Carre, the author of the original novel. That's not a lot of extras.

The technical presentation is strong, as long as you are not comparing it to $100 million special effects laden films. The level of details is usually good, although there are a few scenes that looked a little softer than others. The color palette tends to be muted, but there's no noticeable flaws either. The audio is clear, but uncomplicated. It is a dialogue-driven drama, so this is not a real issue.

The Blu-ray costs $19, which is $4 or 27% more than the DVD.

The Verdict

A Most Wanted Man is a coldly intellectual spy drama that deals as much with politics of being a member of the intelligence community as it does dealing with the day-to-day job. It is worth checking out, especially if you were a fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman. The DVD or Blu-ray do not have a lot of extras, but it is still worth picking up.

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Filed under: Video Review, A Most Wanted Man, Willem Dafoe, Homayoun Ershadi, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Martin Wuttke, Rainer Bock, John Le Carre, Mehdi Dehbi, Grigory Dobrygin