In one of his final performances, Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in A Most Wanted Man as Gunther Bachmann, the head of a secret security agency seeking suspects in the Islamic community of Hamburg. Half-Chechen half-Russian immigrant Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin) turns up to claim his late father’s ten million plus fortune, making him highly suspicious to both the German and US security agencies. Issa hires attorney Annabel Richter (played by Rachel McAdams) to assist him and protect him as the deal goes through. Bachmann enlists the help of bank manager Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe), CIA agent Martha Sullivan (played by the charismatic Robin Wright), and eventually Richter to assist him in trapping a long-desired suspect, a Muslim academic (Homayoun Ershadi) who is believed to be responsible for backing terrorism by way of his philanthropic work.
The tension of the film rises as Bachmann attempts to pull his elaborate plan in span of 72 hours. However, compared to most spy movies, A Most Wanted Man is a surprisingly down-tempo thriller. The final high-tension scene certainly induces some nerves, but those looking for a larger payoff might be disappointed, as it doesn’t quite deliver in justifying the slow build-up of the rest of the movie.
In fact, the whole film has a very cold, removed quality to it. In some ways this works for the narrative, aiding its meticulous plot and clinical character relationships. In other ways, though, it forces a loss of connection with its viewer. For those that are not entirely familiar or interested in spy thrillers, it makes for an engaging film-viewing experience, but also an alienating one. Those, however, that are well-versed in the genre and are also fans of John le Carré’s novel upon which the film is based will most likely savor the drawn out, nuanced handling of plot and characters. Even then, the payoff still seems to fall short. It’s not entirely unpredictable, and the film ends rather unenthusiastically.
A Most Wanted Man is, without question, an accomplished film. In addition to the skill of Anton Corbijn’s directing and Andrew Bovell’s screenplay, the star-heavy cast is able to equally hold their weight. The German accents are pulled off well by all (the most surprising of which is McAdams), and although it might not be on the roster of Hoffman’s finest final performances, he is, as always, a pleasure to watch work. If only this could be the last thing we see him in, and not the forthcoming Hunger Games installments.
A Most Wanted Man opens today at the Ritz East.
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.