A Most Wanted Man was one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last completed films. It is based on a John le Carré thriller, published in 2007 around the height of both global anti-American sentiment and some of the more inspired lunacy of George Bush's War on Terror. The narrative concerns a refugee arriving in Germany where he is tracked by an off-the-books black ops counter-terror unit, who try to use him to get to an even bigger fish. Hoffman plays the dour German head of the unit, a cynical archetype who generally wants to do the right thing and get the job done but isn’t afraid to cross a few moral boundaries to do so. Naturally, the Americans swoop in at the end in a very bone-headed way (it is also revealed they botched an earlier operation and got one of Hoffman’s sources killed) and blow everything up by being imbeciles.
The film has two things going for it. One is a pervasive sense of moral ambiguity, where you come away unsure of who the villain is because everybody does bad things in order to achieve their ultimate goal. And secondly, the Americans are painted broadly as idiots who will fuck things up because they have no restraint and prefer to just bludgeon the problem until it goes away. Given how people felt about America in 2007, and generally how we have behaved in the 21st century, this is not a terrible point to be making. To me, though, the moral ambiguity was more interesting because it's such a complex line that exists when you look at counter-terrorism or law enforcement. It’s hard to hunt your enemy, especially a vicious one, without becoming like them, at least a little bit.
In the beginning, the movie mostly focused on the immigrant refugee kid being singled out basically because he's a foreigner. I actually thought that plot thread had more relevance to modern politics given the refugee crisis in Europe and all the right-wing nationalists with their foreboding warnings of terrorists in the mists. That kind of ingrained xenophobic suspicion of foreigners would have made a good central drama, especially since initially they play it very evenly so the kid could be bad or good. But that thread dries up and it becomes obvious the guy is just a patsy, an innocent victim of the times caught up in a bigger game of cat and mouse. They move past that pretty quick to take us into an examination of moral ambiguity in the war on terror capped off by America as blustering International Idiot. Maybe I’m just being a homer here, but I liked the first plot thread a bit more.