Movies: U.S. spy agency is the villain


“A Most Wanted Man,” a film directed by Anton Corbijn, based on the novel by John le Carré.

Director Corbijn set “A Most Wanted Man” in the port city of Hamburg, site of Mohammad Atta’s planning for the al-Queda jet-plane attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Only now, it’s a decade later. Since 2001, American and European governments have stepped up the clandestine anti-terrorist divisions of their secret service organizations. Things have heightened so much since 9/11 that no governments dare tell the truth anymore.

Corbijn’s film, although a fictional account, realistically depicts elements of what we are learning from the Edward Snowden leaks about U.S. government spying. The film shows that in relations between U.S. and European spy agencies, the U.S. is really in control.

A puffy, overweight Hoffman, in one of his best roles, his last before his tragic death from a drug overdose a year ago, plays Günther Bachman, a weary, soft-spoken German intelligence operative. He gets word that a possible terrorist suspect has arrived in the city. This sets the wheels in motion: Who is this guy; who are his connections in Hamburg; where did he come from and how?

The guy, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) is a Chechen Muslim—a victim of torture. Karpov is thin, wiry, haunted, with a long, scraggly beard—the stereotypical look of a Muslim terrorist. He wears a knitted cap over his unkempt hair, a hoodie, and jeans. His posture is that of a hunted man. Unfortunately, he simply looks “guilty”—even though he has not done anything but enter the country illegally to claim his dead father’s money. His “handlers” in his home country have arranged for him to stay with a young Muslim family.

Rachel McAdams plays Annabel Richter, a human rights attorney, who wants to help him. But the German equivalent of the U.S. Homeland Security—Bachman’s superiors—are on to him, which puts into jeopardy the lives of the people with whom he stayed. Part of the plot is for Richter to hide him until she can arrange a hearing with an official to hear his case. She brings him food, toiletries, blankets, etc. She obviously has fallen for him.

It turns out that Issa Karpov’s dead father left a ton of money in a bank deposit box. Issa decides to turn the money over to Dr. Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), a noted Islamic academic who donates to several Middle East charities and organizations. The government spy agencies suspect that one might be a front for al-Queda, but there is no evidence to prove it. A wonderfully cast Willem Dafoe plays Tommy Brue, the bank official who oversees large deposits and keeps records of secret account numbers. He must approve Richter and Bachman’s access to the safe deposit box.

Things heat up when Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright, as silkily evil as she was on Netflix’s “House of Cards”), a U.S. Homeland Security official, gets Bachman to let down his guard against the Americans, and to work with them in the hunt for Karpov.

After nail-biting suspense (in fact, throughout the film), we breathe a sigh of relief when all appears to go smoothly: Papers are finalized and asylum is granted for Karpov. Tragically, without Bachman and Richter’s knowledge, Sullivan and her smarmy, sneaky U.S. and German cohorts—oily, older, grey-haired, expensively dressed men—have set up their own sting.

The ending is shockingly brutal and heartbreaking, as Martha Sullivan looks on in smug satisfaction. Bachman’s rage is palpable as, alone in the parking lot, he rails at their blatant betrayal: “To make the world a safer place.”

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