A Most Wanted Man (Roadside)
The extreme measures spies take to combat terrorism, and the moral compromises that go with them, are showcased in this edgy adaptation of the 2008 bestselling novel by John le Carre.
Director Anton Corbijn has crafted a tense cat-and-mouse thriller set in Hamburg, Germany, the city where the 9/11 terrorists plotted their attacks. As a result of that, Hamburg is a focus of espionage for many Western nations, including the United States.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his last leading role, portrays Gunther Bachmann, a veteran German intelligence agent. Gunther and his top-secret team work to expose terrorist cells by infiltrating the local Muslim community and obtaining information.
It's a time-consuming and multifaceted operation. "Our sources don't come to us. We find them," Gunther explains. "When they are ours, we direct them to bigger targets. It takes a minnow to catch a barracuda, a barracuda to catch a shark."
Indeed, Gunther uses two contacts to land very big "fish." One, a young man named Jamal, reluctantly spies on his father, a prominent philanthropist suspected of funneling cash to fund terrorist activities. The other, Annabel, is an idealistic immigration lawyer whose new client is a shady refugee from Chechnya, has entered Germany illegally and may or may not be an extremist.
The plot thickens when Karpov reveals that his deceased father extorted a fortune, which was laundered and deposited in a Hamburg bank run. Complicating matters are American spies lurking in the shadows.
The chase is on, and fans of le Carre's novels will know to expect the unexpected. The picture's pronounced anti-American bias and cynicism, however, may leave a bitter aftertaste.
The film contains stylized violence and frequent profane and crude language. (A-III, R)
As Above, So Below (Universal)
Claustrophobics beware: Set mostly in the network of catacombs that lie beneath Paris, this second-rate chiller is not the film for you. Gory images and an excess of hysteria-induced swearing put director and co-writer John Erick Dowdle's jolt-fest off limits for many others as well.
Dowdle, who collaborated on the script with his brother Drew, gets things going with some Dan Brown-style alternate history. Following in the footsteps of her distinguished father, plucky, British accented archaeologist Scarlett, an expert on the pseudo-science alchemy, is out to find the holy grail of alchemists everywhere, the legendary philosopher's stone. This supposedly miraculous artifact has the power to turn base metals into gold and to impart eternal life. The fact that Dad may have been driven mad by his pursuit of it fails to deter Scarlett.
The movie dabbles momentarily in the kind of reality-follows-thought notions clung to by Scientologists and the like. But this is just one more detour on a long, confused chase for daylight.
The film contains intermittent bloody violence, a handful of profanities and pervasive rough and crude language. (L, R)
The November Man (Relativity)
The only thing out of the ordinary about this espionage-themed action flick is the level of visceral violence on display, as it follows the adventures of retired CIA agent Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan). He is reluctantly lured back into the world of secret ops by the need to protect Natalia, a source-turned-lover for whom he still carries a torch.
As Peter tries to get Natalia to safety, however, he's confused to find himself at odds with his former colleagues, including a trigger-happy agency assassin who was once Peter's trainee. The measures they take to thwart Peter's extraction of Natalia leave him not only enraged and bent on revenge, but determined to follow up on Natalia's quest to torpedo Federov's candidacy.
The bloodletting along Peter's path ranges from skulls exploded by high-powered rifle bullets to major arteries slashed by knives. Add to that an explicitly portrayed encounter between David and a casual acquaintance — as well as Peter's visit to a strip club to chat with a pimp who might know something to Federov's discredit — and what you're left with is a viewing experience that frequently plays on the lowest aspects of human nature.
The film contains excessive gory violence, graphic nonmarital and implied premarital sexual activity, upper female and rear nudity, about a half-dozen uses of profanity and a steady flow of rough and crude terms. (O, R)
CNS classifications: A-I — general patronage. A-II — adults and adolescents. A-III — adults. A-IV — adults, with reservations. L — limited adult audiences, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. O — morally offensive.