SPOTLIGHT – REVIEW

SPOTLIGHT – REVIEW – All the Pope’s Men sees Birdman and the Incredible Hulk lead a newspaper investigation in Boston to bring down endemic child rape in the Catholic church.

Boston has not had a good year in film. First Black Mass reminded everyone of Whitey Bulger and now Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight throws light on the pedophilia scandal that broke in the Catholic church there in the early oughts. Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) is the new editor of the Boston Globe and is cordially feared as the new broom who has come in to sweep through another series of cuts, but the first in many surprises it turns out that he also wants to gee up the investigative team on the paper, the Spotlight section, and get them doing something relevant to the city. He prods team leader Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) to have a look at a story of a cover up of child abuse scandal involving a Catholic priest. With the rest of his team Matty Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo),  and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) they begin to meticulously uncover a massive systemic problem. As one of the former victims tells them, with over half of all priests violating their vows of celibacy an atmosphere of secrecy and collusion exists where such aberrant behavior can go unchecked. Stanley Tucci also turns up as Stanley Tucci, a lawyer who has been pursuing the church for years and is highly suspicious of the staying power of the journos.

Both a timely reminder of the scandal itself, the aftershocks of which continue to this day and a heartfelt peaen to the kind of investigative print journalism which is becoming ever rarer – the Spotlight team might only do one story a year – Spotlight is an old-fashioned procedural in many ways but it has the heft and the wit to build its own case without histrionics or outrageous villains. The whole of Boston is to some extent at fault and the journalists themselves are left to examine their own consciences rather than run victory laps. A sober and fascinating film.

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SOUTHPAW – REVIEW

SOUTHPAW – REVIEW: Rocky 5 without the intellectual heft: Donnie Darko punches people, but when his True Detective Season 2 wife is killed Donnie feels like the Prince of Persia and needs the Ghost Dog Butler to help him buck his ideas up.

Boxing movies are weird because essentially boxing is one of those things which is chronically dull and violent, outside of the movie theater. With the one exception that proves the rule – Muhammad Ali – boxers are generally nasty pieces of work without the wit or will to say anything interesting. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Billy (The Great White) Hope, a light heavy weight fighter who is at the top of his game but with the encouragement of his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) has one eye on the door before he gets his ticket to Palookaville. They have a little daughter who is just lovely.

When his wife gets killed in a confusing and weird scene, Billy goes to pieces, loses everything including his mansion and daughter and must start once more from the bottom. He goes to an old gym where he finds old trainer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) and begins his arduous climb back to the big time.

Gyllenhaal, it has to be said, is excellent, but one wishes that Antoine Fuqua (nominative determinism anyone?) had put as much dedication into the picture as his lead. Fuqua loves his aerial shots of a city at night and he uses them with televisual regularity. The fights are well done but the story is so predictable as to be almost infuriating. The manager played by 50 Cent is so worthless that one of the other characters predicts his worthlessness a good twenty minutes before it proves to be so. The villainous fighter is an actual villain. Even Rocky had the good sense to see that Apollo Creed’s villainy was pantomime and to deconstruct it into a gay love affair by Rocky III. Nope, Billy’s Columbian rival Escobar (Jesus!) is as slimy as his namesake, with a skanky missus (Rita Ora) to boot and everything is strictly by the numbers. We have the training session, the inspired youngster, the trainer’s grumpiness acceding to respect and a seriousness of tone, totally out of keeping with the thin fare on offer.

There are more good boxing movies than there are good boxing matches – check out John Huston’s Fat City – but rather than light heavy weight, Southpaw is more bantam.

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TRUE DETECTIVE SEASON 3 TO HAVE TITLE CHANGE

HOLLYWOOD – Nic Pizzolatto revealed today that True Detective Season 3 will have a title change and some significant differences to the first two seasons.

“A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet” wrote Julian Fellowes or someone, but HBO seem to disagree and are hoping that the title change of True Detective 3 will create a much needed in critical and audience reaction. The second season indeed was so poorly received that its still quite high ratings were explained as being due to ‘hate watching’.

Nic Pizzolatto, close friend of the Studio Exec, popped in to the Studio Exec bungalow to explain his thinking:

I think I’ve got bogged down in certain genre aspects of what I was trying to do. The first show had this Lovecraft type thing going on. The second I was Los Angeles bound and I was very influenced by James Ellroy. But with the next season I’m going to take George Romero as my primary influencer.

That sounds like a real change.

Oh it is. And it will be reflected in the action of the story. I can’t tell you too much as we’re in the process of casting and still developing the scripts, but my thoughts are clear that what people want is something much more direct, less dense, packed with action as well perhaps.

But George Romero is more famed as a horror director. 

And we will be going more in that direction and why not? We had element of that in the first season and I’d like to bring it back. I feel it was something that a lot of people missed from the second. Don’t get me wrong. I’m extremely proud of what we were able to accomplish in the second show. We managed to Taylor Kitsch, Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell and no one laughed. Not once. At least not intentionally.

Fear the True Detective will be broadcast June 2016.

TRUE DETECTIVE 2: BLACK MAPS AND MOTEL ROOMS

TRUE DETECTIVE SEASON 2: EPISODE 7: BLACK MAPS AND MOTEL ROOMS  – So we’re almost at the light at the end of the tunnel, but that unfortunately means – we’re still in the tunnel.

The penultimate episode of the second season of True Detective finally got rid of a major character, but my nonchalance was almost unbearable. Let’s rewind to the motel room where the now framed Velcro (Colin Farrell) and Euripedes (Rachel McAdam) basically recreate the inside of Nic Pizzolatto’s writing room of a head as he desperately tries to remember what happened in all the other episodes as a way of bringing out some closure. As they do this the sexual tensions fizz, leading them to some of the silliest dialogue – ‘You’re not a bad man’ ‘Yes, I am’, ‘Oh no you’re not’  ‘Oh yes I am’ etc. There is a sense that finally the show is becoming leaner as David Morse and the sister split along with Paul’s (Taylor Kitsch) mom and girlfriend. Velcro’s fat son was busy watching Friends so we saw not a whisker of the grumpy lad (my favorite character of the whole show thus far).

Frank (Vince Vaughn) is finally getting smart and violent. Even though having just been told everyone has been bought, he entrusts his wife with shady henchman #5. His showdown with Zee Roooshun is going to be fun. I hope he shoots Osip while the nasty man is elongating one of those endless vowels of his.

Next week we have the last 90 minute episode – which I hope begins with Paul on a stretcher being told by Ray, ‘Lucky he hit you with one of those fancy paint balling guns and not an actual bullet’ (from an idea suggested by @pennywisereject).

TRUE DETECTIVE 2: ‘CHURCH IN RUINS’ REVIEW

TRUE DETECTIVE 2: EPISODE 6: ‘CHURCH IN RUINS’ REVIEW – You know the old Chekhov, ‘If a character practices stabbing a man in five vital points in act one by two someone is going to have to bleed out.’

I think it must be from his essay ‘On Predictability’. The episode begins with something of a cliffhanger. Vince Vaughn and Ray Velcro sit down to have coffee – will Ray have sugar and milk? of course not, he likes his black. How do you say black in French? Noir! Coincidence? I don’t think so – and discuss Ray’s vengeance killing of the wrong guy off of Frank’s tip. Such is the faux (French for fake) drama of this whole set up, that they even end up leaving as friends but without anything that had Ray hammering on the door being actually resolved. I’m coming to the conclusion that Ray’s a bit dim. Nic Pizzolatto really missed a trick when he had Ray go and visit the actual rapist in jail. I would have given him a pass for the whole season if the rapist had been a fat carrot top with a penchant for sulkiness and sitcoms of the 90s. At least Ray is beginning to get the fact that his son is a bit of an amorphous blob who has zero interest in model airplanes. They sit and watch the quietest episode of Friends I’ve ever seen – I mean it was silent – and Friends proves to be the last straw, sending Ray off on a coke and whisky binge. I don’t want to be too judgmental, but Ray looks like he really doesn’t know how to do drugs or alcohol. He even destroys his room!

Meanwhile, Ani (Rachel McAdams) and her sister have knife practice conversation while setting up for the Eyes Wide Shut party.  Ani is so avid about going despite the fact that it is unclear what can be gleaned from such a dangerous move – and in fact Taylor Kitsch’s Paul does the best police work by simply breaking in – that you have to wonder if Ani just wants to take part in an orgy. Again we knock up against the cold fact that what David Lynch could show as the dangerous dark underbelly in the 80s is now simply the belly. This wild orgy involves lesbianism (horrors!), drug taking, voyeurism and sex. In other words, it’s a Tuesday.

Frank (Vince Vaughn) is still stumbling around from trap to trap, looking menacing and sorrowful in equal measure, but his machinations are seriously undermined by the revelation that Ray is his best friend. Vince Vaughn’s staccato delivery of lines. is becoming similar. to the way. William Shatner used to speak. as Captain Kirk.

So Paul has some contracts, Frank has some Mexicans, Ray has some broken furniture and Ani has stabbed someone because of a poorly developed backstory.

TRUE DETECTIVE 2: ‘OTHER LIVES’ REVIEW

TRUE DETECTIVE 2: ‘OTHER LIVES’ REVIEW – True Detective: why do I bother? Part 5.

The second half of True Detective felt like a reset, with everyone getting a costume change, a mustache shave and the possibility to all stand around saying why they’re doing though we no longer care about what they’re doing. The big shoot out happened and rattled the box. Ani has been demoted; Velcro has quit the force; Paul has been promoted to a bad suit and Frank has been dragged back in just as he thought he was out. I honestly don’t remember from week to week who got killed and there are literally zero emotional stakes. Half way through the episode a black lawyer (DA, police, I don’t remember) has Velcro, Paul and Ani meet in the middle of the street so she can have everyone state baldly their motivation for continuing the show, or be given it by her if they had trouble remembering why they should give a shit.

People have talked a lot about what doesn’t work this season, comparing it to what worked last season, but it goes through the whole DNA of the show. It isn’t simply too many characters, or an uncompelling drama, piss-poor dialogue or acting that simply doesn’t know what to do with what’s been given. It’s all of those things, but what is most irritating is there is somewhere here a really good idea.

What Nic Pizzolatto needed was a very good script editor, a writers room maybe, and another year of rewrites. The Chinatown, LA Confidential stuff is there it just needs someone to say go back and do over. And it helps if the twists are surprises for the audience as well rather than being the characters discovering something the audience guessed back in episode one.

 

 

TRUE DETECTIVE 2: ‘DOWN WILL COME’ REVIEW

TRUE DETECTIVE 2: ‘DOWN WILL COME’ REVIEW – Halfway through the second season of True Detective we are served up with a Michael Mann style shoot out, but does it actually make any sense?

I try and I try and I try to like Nic Pizzolatto’s second season of True Detective. I admire the anthology form. I think the stunt casting of Vincent Vaughn is courageous. I love the setting of an updated Chinatown Los Angeles, with its arterial freeways and empty nighthawk spaces. But whereas True Detective 1 was The Matrix –  a lifetime in the making – True Detective 2 is TV’s Matrix Reload. That same cold sweat of watching talented people being disappointing. The same fear that the first one that impressed you so  much won’t stand a re-watching.

Episode 4 is the halfway point and nothing much has happened since the first one. Taylor Kitsch is still gay; still pretending not to be. Velcro is still soulful. Rachel McAdams still hasn’t had that shit; constipated expression remains. Vince Vaughn is still unconvincing as an unconvincing gangster. Everyone still talks in that all-our-dialogue-has-been-written-by-the-same-teenage-poet-way.

None of the escalations actually seem to escalate. When Paul is mobbed by the press, they seem remarkably un-persistent. They seemed to be there only so that Rachel McAdams could also be put in further trouble and Velcro’s comment about them all being scapegoats to be proved likely. Pizzolatto himself seems to have got bored with this episode and so provided us with a WOW moment of a shoot out.  This is what Game of Thrones lapses into at its worse i.e. Season Four. It really was unnecessary, but it was fun and it escalated amusingly. The CGI head shots made it a bit too video gamey, but still … it woke me up and Frank didn’t talk about his dental care.

 

TRUE DETECTIVE 2: ‘MAYBE TOMORROW’ REVIEW

TRUE DETECTIVE SEASON 2: EPISODE 3 REVIEW – The ‘plot’ deepens, I think, as someone does something somewhere. Meanwhile somewhere else some other people doing other things.

F*cking sh*t! Colin Farrell is not dead. The survival of Colin Farrell felt like a kick in the chest. So we’re not going with the bold move. He didn’t even wake up in hospital. Though it was funny that he pissed himself. The danger element that would have added greatly to the show if Velcro had been offed is now removed and then some. Now we know the creepy murderer isn’t going to hurt people who need to be around for contractual reasons.

In other news, Nic Pizzolatto continues to own dick dialogue with the impeccable ‘suck your own dick’ delivered to Vince Vaughn in something that looked like a dark out take from his hit comedy Delivery Man. Vince’s Frank is still looking hassled and petulant by turns. But at least he gets to punch someone and gets the best line of the show so far: ‘Don’t take off your rings, it won’t be a problem for me.’

Velcro and Rachel McAdams stalk around a studio back lot where something like Mad Max is being made. The on set photographer sneers that they’re making a load of shit. To which I wanted to scream, Mad Max: Fury Road was a million times better than this bull crap. This show just isn’t good enough to sneer at anything else. The desultory plotting continued as people wandered around a bit more. Taylor Kitsch’s repressed gay is right out of one of James Ellroy’s LA Quartet, but those were set in the fifties, when it made sense. This sense of anachronism plagues the whole show. Despite a hoarding of American Sniper in the background, this feels like a show that should have been set in the eighties. When Kitsch goes into a nightclub and looks traumatized at the depravity he finds – girls and boys dance unchaperoned – we’re supposed to feel in touch with an underbelly, as if internet porn doesn’t exist. There is no underbelly. It’s all belly now.

The final foot chase was a bit of much needed dynamism and looked good, but like the rest of the episode led nowhere. All we know of the prime suspect is he can’t kill people even when he shoots them twice in the chest with a shotgun, and he failed ninja camouflage school, with his high visibility mask.

TRUE DETECTIVE 2: NIGHT FINDS YOU REVIEW

TRUE DETECTIVE ‘NIGHT FINDS YOU’ REVIEW – There follows a review of the second episode of season 2 of True Detective. There are spoilers.

I’m not sure if I’m going to review every episode. I don’t know if I have the energy. I feel like every single character on the show, darkly brooding, vaguely incompetent and humorless to the point of rigor mortis. This week’s episode began with an opening monologue by Vince Vaughn – to put beside all those other Vince Vaughn monologues – and herein we have some of the problems with this season so far. Vince’s gangster lies in bed with his wife and starts muttering about the water stain on the ceiling. Cut! Leave it there. We get it, everything is falling apart. No, now we have long monologue about a childhood of neglect, locked in a cellar for a few days. It’s a bit needy, and the feeling is we’re being positioned to feel sympathy for this character, before he has done anything to earn it. We’re supposed to root for him, because of this. Just to make sure we got it, Vince makes sure we know not only that he is still in that cellar, but that the water stain was a symbol of this. If Nic Pizzolatto was a first time writer, this scene would have been slashed by red pen – ‘show not tell’ would be written in the margin, but as it stood the overwritten grandstanding was allowed to stand.

The investigation gets under way as each of the jurisdictions is given a representative on the special squad: Ray Velcro (Colin Farrell) has floppy hair and a tragic mustache, Antigone Flibby-dibbly-dee (Rachel McAdams) smokes an e-cig and Paul Exposition (Taylor Kitsch) has the haunted look of a man who starred in John Carter and won’t be allowed to forget. The latter also revealed himself to be a repressed homosexual  in one of the clunkiest exchanges of the series so far which even had one of the characters commenting on the clunkiness of it. The dialogue is uniformly awful, with everyone saying everything, sometimes twice. ‘There are appointments with his psychiatrist. Looks like he was seeing a shrink,’ says Ray ‘Sherlock’ Velcro.

The ominous soundtrack and the industrial landscape hint that something terrible is lurking here – ‘What is this place?’ Ani says as they drive past what I believe is usually called ‘a factory’. And these are detectives? The final scene offers the first real hook of the series and will probably guarantee that I’ll tune in again next week. I will be hugely disappointed if we open to ‘INT: HOSPITAL. NIGHT. Ray is hooked up to a life support machine.’ Ray dying would be a nice quick twist. And frankly he deserves to die. He walks into a house where a murder might have taken place, sees a large pool of blood and then holsters his weapon? I might not be a ‘true’ detective, but I’ve got a feeling neither is Ray.

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HUMAN CENTIPEDE: THE BROADWAY MUSICAL

BELGIUM – Tom Six’s The Human Centipede follows in the footsteps of Billy Elliot and Spider-man to become the latest movie to be transformed into a big Broadway musical. 

With Human Centipede 3: The Final Sequence in cinemas at the moment the popularity of the digestive horror franchise has never been higher and some analysts are surprised only that it hasn’t made the move earlier. Theater critic Xavier Poulis said:

Human Centipede is an absolutely obvious choice for Broadway adaptation. It has physical movement, a strong central idea and it is genuinely moving. The team assembled are top class and I can see Human Centipede challenging the likes of Les Miserables for longevity.

Tim Rice has already written the book and Andrew Lloyd Webber is busy putting the finishing touches to what he calls ‘the sickest shit I’ve ever done.’

The first songs have leaked (never was the word more appropriate) onto the internet, with such promising titles as ‘He’s got the Whole World in his Glands’ and ‘You’ll find an End in Me’. James Purefoy will take the role of the mad scientist whose anatomical experiment has terrible consequences for Andrew Garfield, Rachel McAdams and Carey Mulligan.

An overexcited Tim Rice said:

We’ve missed in some classics, like Scott Walker’s ‘Get Behind Me’ and the evergreen favorite ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, with some of our original songs like ‘Arse horizon’ and the fantastic post-operation ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ which we’ve changed to ‘Smm mmmml mmw ooo’ because it’s sung by the one in the middle.

The Human Centipede Sings! is due to open early in 2016.

TRUE DETECTIVE SEASON 2 SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS SURPRISE

HOLLYWOOD – The first reviews are in for True Detective Season 2 and the biggest surprise has been the appearance of animated character Spongebob Squarepants.

True Detective creator Nic Pizzolato explained to the Studio Exec the inclusion of Spongebob Squarepants:

When I finished the first season I knew we had done something very special with the team we had assembled. Woody Harrelson, Cary Fukunaga and Matthew McConaughey and I knew the easy thing to do would have been to simply try and repeat that and I knew that would have been entirely the wrong thing to do. So I decided to go in a totally new direction. I got a new director and I cast Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Vince Vaughn. Initially I wanted Vince to provide a lighter shading with his hilarious every-man comedy persona, the likable schlub, but he was keen to do something different. That was great but it left us with a problem. Everyone looked like they wanted to take a shit they were so glum. I was drinking in West Hollywood and I bumped into Stephen Hillenburg, who I knew from back when we both worked on 60 Minutes together. I asked him about Spongebob and he was a bit down about how Spongebob Squarepants Sponge Out of Water had turned out. I didn’t think anything of it but the next day I got up to do some writing and I wrote the words ‘Who lives in a pineapple under the sea’. It was unbelievable.

What role does Spongebob play?

I wanted him to be the goofy desk sergeant that is always getting things wrong and yet providing Colin Farrell’s character Ray Velcoro with some welcome relief from all the brooding he has to do. His japes, whether trying the cocaine that he is supposed to be filing away as evidence, or jawing with the local hookers, just add another color to my palate. Imagine how dour it would be without Spongebob to cheer things up?

The first episode ‘The Western Book of the Dead’ sees a mobster trying to go straight and corruption rife in the LAPD while Spongebob accidentally leaves his trousers at home.

True Detective Season 2 is currently showing on HBO. 

5 FACTS YOU NEVER KNEW ABOUT TRUE DETECTIVE 2

HOLLYWOOD – True Detective 2 is going to be hitting HBO in June but what do we really know about it?

Although we already have the facts about True Detective 1, we sent the Studio Exec FACT squad into the underbelly of the badlands to find FACTS out like a real detective, I mean a genuine detective, an authentic detective, or a true investigator to find out about True Detective 2.

1. Despite coming from an impeccable source, the casting news that Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey, Zach Galiafanakis and Jack Black feature in the series looks to be untrue, possibly a ‘spoof’ of some kind.

2. The confirmation of Vince Vaughn, however, like much of his work, is no laughing matter.

3. Although it’s called True Detective, the characters never actually existed, the story is based on Nic Pizzolatto’s brain squirts and the setting of Los Angeles is a fictional kingdom like Narnia. To add to the titular falsehood, there are actually no detectives in the show, just police officers.

4. Rachel McAdams is to play the woman, doing stuff and not just being naked or a whiney wife type as a way of solving some of the accusations of misogyny leveled at the first season. For the men, Colin Farrell has a moustache.

5. Although the new season of True Detective is not a continuation of the first season, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are thought to have cameos to add some extra incomprehensibility.

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JIM CARREY JOINS TRUE DETECTIVE SEASON 2

HOLLYWOOD – Following the news that Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams have all been cast for True Detective Season 2, the Studio Exec can confirm that Jim Carrey will be joining them in the new HBO show.

According to sources close to the production (it was show runner Nic Pizzolato but he made us promise to be discrete), Jim Carrey has approved the script and will be filming his scenes early next week.

Nic the anonymous source said:

As everyone already knows, we have decided to completely change this season. Not only are the characters going to be different, so is the story and the tone. Although it takes place in the same universe and there will be strands and possible cameos to connect the two seasons we want to do something that is so out there that people will be really knocked over. They’ll say ‘What the F*ck?’ and we’ll say ‘Oh. Yeah’.

What is the Dumb and Dumber star going to contribute?

We’d like to say madcap rubber faced comedy, but having seen Mr. Popper’s Penguins I think we’ll just be happy if there’s some rubber faced nonsense that’ll have to do.  The think I love about Jim is though there is this ostensible humor, at its root there is a Lovecraftian darkness of unspeakable horror and grief, a loathing for the world and all life and a hopelessness that makes Rust Cole seem like Steve Guttenberg. Steve Guttenberg… hmmm. Now there’s a thought.

True Detective Season 2 will be broadcast sometime in 2015.

A MOST WANTED MAN: REVIEW

The director of The American films a book by the guy who did Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy starring the guy from Doubt and the gal from Mean Girls who isn’t Lindsay Lohan.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last performances, plays Gunther a world weary secret operative who runs a small team of spooks in Hamburg, Germany, tasked with spotting Islamic terrorists before they can put together a plot similar to that hatched in the same city in 2001 and which brought down the World Trade Center. A young Chechen refugee Issa (Grigori Dobrygin)  enters the country illegally, seeking the help of an idealistic young lawyer Annabel (Rachel McAdams) and a dubious banker (Willem Dafoe) to access millions of Euros his Russian father has hid away. Gunther’s team stealthily circle their prey hoping that the Chechen might prove bait to an apparently moderate Islamic leader who might however be a front for terrorists. Gunther will have to contend not only with the terrorists but also with the hawkish elements of his law enforcement rivals and the smiling duplicitous presence of Robin Wright’s CIA operative, an observer  with all the strings held lightly in her hand.

Anton Corbjin’s film looks wonderful. He has a particular talent for placing his characters in startling settings and Hamburg becomes a character in itself with its 1960s architecture all modernist angles and concrete, blessed by the occasional park and laced with ancient sex shops and sea port dives. Hoffman looks perfect in the role and in the city. He shambles about smoking cigarettes as if they are his only form of nutrition and helping himself to generous servings of whisky. He is a man who refuses to look the world in the eye, except when he has to compel that world to do something potentially terrible. As with The Lives of Others, the spooks live half lives somewhere between shabby Olympic Gods and peeping Toms, although Hoffman is such a charismatic screen presence that we are as manipulated and compelled as his stooges are.

The film subsequently suffers whenever we are asked to care too much about Issa or Annabel and their feelings for each other. Rachel McAdams looks out of place, though that is also the function of her character and Issa scrubs up a little too well to be credible. That said A Most Wanted Man is a solid addition to the filmography of John LeCarré adaptations and another sad reminder of what we lost when Philip Seymour Hoffman took his final bow.

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