A Most Wanted Man

 

A Most Wanted Man is a movie that asks two questions: 1. In the spy game, can you trust anybody? And 2. Will Philip Seymour Hoffman win a posthumous Oscar? (Answers are “no” and “maybe.”)

Günther Bachman (Hoffman) is a chain-smoking German espionage schlub working on a plan to expose—and halt—an operation that’s transferring money from to terrorist organizations. A new arrival in Hamburg from Chechnya is central to Heinrich’s scheme. Gunther is working angles with a variety of players, managing to manipulate certain activities but needing cooperation to make other pieces fall into place.

Martha (Robin Wright—with black hair!) is an American spy whose motives are parallel to those of Gunther’s. Annabel (Rachel McAdams) is a lawyer who helps conceal Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin) from authorities who would deport him back to Chechnya before he can get his hands on a large sum of money. Tommy (Willem Dafoe) is the banker whose efforts are vital to Gunter’s plan.

Hoffman’s acting skills are top notch as usual but this is not the kind of role that screams for an Oscar nomination. However, his untimely passing coupled with the admiration of his talent by the movie community, could lead to year-end honors. Some online commenters have called PSH’s German accent into question, but Sally Field and Tom Hanks won Oscars with unauthentic Southern accents, so that issue should be moot.

A Most Wanted Man has a story that requires strict attention to the cast of characters and their respective needs and wants. No running out for more popcorn during this film—too much going on. A Most Wanted Man is not a likely crowd-pleaser. But if you enjoy a dark, heavy spy film, and/or you are a fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acting, don’t miss it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the Furnace

Gritty is the best word to describe the setting, the characters and the story in Out of the Furnace. Director Scott Cooper, who struck gold in 2009 with his rookie effort Crazy Heart, falls a bit short with OOTF. He has assembled a strong cast that works hard to tell a revenge story that’s, unfortunately, not unlike other revenge stories.

The Baze brothers, Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck) live in the rundown town of North Braddock, PA, just a few miles up the Monongahela from Pittsburgh. Russell goes to work at the town’s steel mill where his father worked. Rodney wants something different. He seeks it via gambling and bare knuckle fighting.

One night while driving after drinking a few beers, Russell hits another car, killing a kid. He goes to prison for a brief sentence. Rodney, meanwhile, goes to the Iraq war and returns with demons.

When Rodney runs up gambling debts to John (Willem Dafoe), he begs for a chance to earn money in a fight in a backwoods venue run by outlaw Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). Harlan is a meth dealer, a killer and an all-around bad egg. The film’s opening scene demonstrates his temper and abusive behavior.

The fight is vicious. Rodney takes the dive he promised, but, as he and John return to town, Harlan and his henchmen block their way and detain them. Russell then plots his course of revenge.

Local police chief Wesley Barnes (Forest Whittaker) warns Russell against chasing down the culprit on his home turf. When Russell goes after Harlan anyway, the rural cop (who’d been alerted by Barnes) sends him home. Ultimately the showdown occurs back in North Braddock after Russell lures Harlan to town.

Zoe Saldana appears as Russell’s girlfriend. Sam Sheppard has a small role as Russell’s uncle.

Cooper hits several sweet notes in the film, including an effective sequence that cuts back and forth between a deer hunt and a boxing match. And the acting talent he has assembled is impressive. But once the film’s story is established, its outcome is predictable.

Christian Bale again shows his range as an actor in this working class tale. His strong performance may be the best reason to see Out of the Furnace.