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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘A Most Wanted Man’

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman | @CinemaInFocus |

3 Stars — Troubling

There is a common quote used in the back rooms of butcher shops: "If you love salami, it is best that you don't know how it is made." The same sentiment is probably true about the love we may have for living in a free society and how it is governed and protected. In the aftermath of 9/11, there are things that we probably don't want to know about how our lives are either threatened or how those threats are thwarted.

A Most Wanted Man stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as Günther Bachmann, a German undercover operative whose job is not on any organizational chart but whose purpose is to disrupt and stop potential post-9/11 operatives from hitting or destroying the west. The innocent-until-proven-guilty "due process" that westerners have come to expect or take for granted are not part of the world of those deemed to be potential threats to national security.

Bachmann is not the slick James Bond type. He is a man whose lifestyle resembles the gutter life around him. Between the chain smoking, constant boozing, and bedraggled look of his wardrobe and physique, he is old beyond his years. Ironically, this was the last film Hoffman made before his untimely death due to a heroin overdose. In a sad way, his life imitated his art.

Bachmann and a small group of operatives function outside the legal and organizational structure of the German secret service. In many ways, they have no oversight, and most of the government would just as soon not know what they are doing. In this story, they are tracking the entry of Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), who is a Chechen Muslim illegally immigrating to Hamburg. It is presumed that Karpov's intent is to funnel money into a "front organization" for Muslim terrorist groups.

Without giving away the story, it is clear that this is a murky business and lives are disposable. God is presumed dead in the west and alive with acts of vengeance in the Muslim world. Neither may be true, but it is this structure of beliefs that drives the main characters in this dark drama.

Among thieves there is sometimes honor, but in Bachmann's undercover world even his own government, or that of the Americans, can be trusted to honor their commitments. Liberal do-gooders and conservative bureaucrats willingly sell out one another to get what they believe to be a righteous solution. All ends justify the means.

At the beginning of the 20th century European countries had to cope with a brave new world of warfare that they had never known before. The honor and values of the past were giving way to a new and evil present. One hundred years later we are experiencing the same metamorphosis.

A Most Wanted Man may just be a momentary story of war drama or it may be a glimpse into a new world of fear and social change. In either case, a satanic outcome or a world of justice demands that men and women of character do not sit idly by without getting involved. The souls of the world are at stake.

Discussion

» Do you believe the present battle woven by terrorist threads is changing how we must do war? Do you believe all is fair in war? Why do you answer as you do?

» The early demise of actors who play villainess roles is a rare but alarming occurrence. Do you believe Hoffman's portrayal of Bachmann hastened his death? Why do you answer as you do?

» The necessity of each person living by a higher morality is necessary for there to be peace and goodwill on Earth. How do you live this in your own life?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.




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