Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last completed movie is a superior espionage drama by Anton Corbijn (The American, Control), from spy master John Le Carre (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).
On the front lines of the War on Terror, Gunther Bachmann (Hoffman – Hunger Games, The Master) is a world-weary and dis-empowered German counter-terrorism officer, hoping to reel in a Turkish Muslim cleric fronting for Al Kaida in a complex sting using a devout Russian-Chechen refugee. If only his colleagues in German and US intelligence will let him.
Grigori Dobrygin’s tortured escapee comes to Hamburg to claim the inheritance of his Russian father’s ill-gotten fortune. Pressed into Bachman’s game, Rachel MacAdam (Time Traveller’s Wife) is the earnest asylum lawyer and Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Daybreakers) the morally shaky banker.
Hoffman’s friendless, unkempt, chain-smoking, hard-drinking spy is another of Le Carre’s lonely, insular outsiders. A foot-soldier disregarded by his superiors and other departments, he is the brilliant puppet-master running a deniable, covert operation, still trying to do the right thing in a dirty international game.
Having been compromised by US intelligence in Beirut and re-assigned to the pit of failure that is Hamburg, post-911, he is rightly suspicious when cool, smooth CIA agent Marth Sullivan (Robin Wright – Forest Gump, The Princess Bride) arrives offering help.
Hoffman’s final performance headlines a multi-layered, intense drama of betrayal, with a superb cast that has European lead actors Nina Hoss and Daniel Bruhl (Inglorious, Rush) in supporting roles. As queasy private banker, Thomas Brue, out of his depth in Bachmann’s high-stakes game, Willem Dafoe delivers his most admirable and restrained performance in years, reminding us just how good he can be on top form.
MacAdams walks a line between toughness and vulnerability, without the usual Hollywood props of tears and histrionics normally written into the role. Grigoriy Dobrygin (Black Sea) as the suspected jihadi of the title, plays a broken, devout, shy, withdrawn and innocent man (in both senses).
Perhaps the industrial and commercial landscapes of Hamburg are a throwback to 70’s Cold War tales; perhaps the old-fashioned intelligence procedural relies too much on cigarettes and headphones, more than miniaturised video cameras and mobile phones; it all feels like a movie out of it’s time. That’s no bad thing.
Corbijn delivers a taught, disciplined espionage tale drenched in disillusion and cynicism. Far removed from loud and violent spy games such as Bourne or the deplorable The Kingdom, for all its similarities to the great Syriana, it’s closer to the cerebral Tinker Tailor or The Shepherd.
Subtley underlined by a subdued, barely noticeable score by Herbert Grönemeyer, Corbijn gives his story and his players room to breath and inhabit the scenes. Often slow, but never dull or empty, every scene is packed with incident and tension, building to the inevitable betrayal.
I’ve waited a long time to sign off with this one: ‘a highly superior thriller.’ RC
A Most Wanted Man (2014)
Director: Anton Corbijn
Writers: Andrew Bovell, John le Carré, Stephen Cornwell
Genre: Drama, thriller
Running time: 122 minutes
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Daniel Brühl, Kostja Ullmann, Rainer Bock, Max Volkert Martens, Nina Hoss, Homayoun Ershadi, Mehdi Dehbi
Related: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy