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“A Most Wanted Man,” based on John le Carré’s 2008 best-seller, begins with the ominous reminder that the terrors of 9/11 were developed in the poor city of Hamburg, where the film is set.

It’s an effective way to open a movie that tries to cover many facets of the post-9/11 period, though it doesn’t quite make up for the fact that a great cast is sometimes wasted. If you’re going to hire Daniel Brühl and Robin Wright, give them more than the little they have to do here.

It’s left to Willem Dafoe and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman to carry the picture, though even Hoffman is upstaged by a flock of seagulls that seem projected onto the background of one weirdly prolonged outdoor scene. No one tops Rachel Weisz’s Oscar-winning work in the 2005 film of le Carré’s “The Constant Gardener.”

The plot revolves around a Chechen/Russian fugitive (Grigorly Dobrygin) whose hefty inheritance interests a bank executive (Dafoe) and others. Hoffman plays a representative of a secretive organization that investigates the desperate man’s background, Rachel McAdams turns up as his chief defender, and Wright is a CIA operative who coolly claims to be devoted to making the world a safer place.

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Always timely and sometimes talky, Andrew Bovell’s script focuses on the difficulty of maintaining a human-rights agenda in an anti-terrorist system that openly despises due process. The director, Anton Corbijn, who made the 2010 George Clooney thriller “The American,” does what he can to keep the material visually interesting.

John Hartl:

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