Director: Anton Corbijn
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Running Time: 122 minutes
Release Date: September 12th
Based on John Le Carré’s 2008 novel, A Most Wanted Man is the last leading role for the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman (not his last roles however with the two-part finale of The Hunger Games still to be released). It’s very easy to let this fact distract from the film itself, after all watching someone at the peak of his powers and knowing that it is for the last time can be quite overwhelming. Fortunately Hoffman shows exactly why he was one of the best actors of his generation, and cements his already impressive legacy with yet another standout performance.
Hoffman plays Gunther Bachmann, a German spymaster based in Hamburg who is investigating moderate Muslim academic Dr. Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi) who he suspects is laundering money to terrorist organizations under the guise of charity donations. Into the picture comes Chechen asylum seeker Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), who is attempting to secure a large inheritance left to him by his corrupt Russian General father with the help of human rights lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams). Bachmann sees an opportunity and attempts to convince Richter to persuade Karpov to donate his money to Dr. Abdullah as part of a sting operation to prove his fraud.
Hoffman is incredible in the role as Bachmann. He appears to be a man who is completely out of step with his environment, both in his job and in the outside world. His approach to spying, which is similar to characters like George Smiley from Le Carré’s Cold War novels, is to think in the long term and not unnecessarily rush into things in order to achieve a quick result — which puts him at odds with his impatient superiors who feel the need to move quickly in this new post-9/11 world. Even his outward appearance, decked out in a trench coat and rarely seen without either a drink or a cigarette, gives the impression of a relic from another era.
The supporting roles are pretty solid here. While it may take a few minute to adjust to the American actors speaking wiz ze German accent — particularly with Willem Dafoe, who seems to be reprising the accent he used in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou — it never becomes a serious issue. The only problem is that with such an impressive international cast, some actors aren’t put to much use. One example would be with Daniel Brühl, who plays a member of Bachmann’s team and whose role in the film consists mainly of him looking at computer screens.
Another actor let down by his role is Grigoriv Dobrygin in the role of Karpov, and this leads into the films biggest and possibly only fault. What director Anton Corbijn wants to do in this film is to provide a sort of mood piece for the modern post 9/11 world, a world where people like Karpov are caught in the middle and are its biggest victims. However Corbijn presents the film with a degree of emotional detachment to show this mood and that comes at the expense of the characterisation of people like Karpov. By removing parts of his humanity, Karpov merely comes across as a MacGuffin and in turn ruins some of the emotional connection we feel towards his as an audience.
Despite this major flaw, A Most Wanted Man remains a well-acted and rather quite suspenseful espionage thriller. It also gives us one last chance to see an actor like Philip Seymour Hoffman doing what he did best and a sad reminder we will never see it again.