One of the final films completed by Philip Seymour Hoffman before his untimely death is Anton Corbijn‘s A Most Wanted Man, based on the 2008 novel by John le Carré. Whilst this complex thriller may not always grip, Hoffman’s performance is a testament to the great calibre of his acting talent.
The head of a German intelligence unit, Günther Bachmann (Hoffman) is drawn into a complex web of espionage and intrigue when a Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg – an event which attracts the suspicion of both the American and German security agencies.
Like most le Carré adaptations, A Most Wanted Man is a slow-burning thriller that gradually unwinds to reveal some impressive surprises – that is if you are patient enough to stick with it. As we dive in and out of the workings within both the German and American security services, as well as exploring relations within the Muslim community of Hamburg, it is easy to lose track of what is actually happening. However, as Andrew Bovell’s screenplay gradually builds momentum pieces fall into place and earlier complexities gradually make sense.
However, that means that it is only in the last twenty minutes or so that A Most Wanted Man actually gets going. Whilst much of this is impressively restrained and low-key, it is arguably too slow-burning for its own good. By that I mean bum-numbingly boring. The drab, grey setting of industrial Hamburg does not do a huge amount to add to the energy level, nor do the endless amounts of talky scenes – regardless of how good the acting is. Given this, A Most Wanted Man never packs the tension and impact that a tale of this sort needs.
Despite a lack of development into the characters of A Most Wanted Man (this remains second to the film’s focus on intricate espionage), there are some engaging performances nonetheless. Hoffman excels as the focused Günther: we believe every word he utters as the tired intelligence head – as well as his delight in small successes and his crushing devastation in failures. However, it is Willem Dafoe that puts in the film’s most memorable performance as Tommy Brue, the head of a German bank that becomes linked in this case of espionage. Fish out of water panic combined with Dafoe’s expected charisma gives Tommy a sinister but intriguing edge. A German-accented Rachel McAdams also impresses as the human rights lawyer protecting the Chechen and reluctantly helping the German intelligence.
Complex and intricately crafted, A Most Wanted Man may be too drab and slow-burning for its own good but does boast excellent performances from Hoffman, Dafoe and McAdams, as well as packing a surprising punch in its conclusion.
eOne Films UK
22, 28 June 2014
5th September 2014 (UK Cinema)
Phillip Seymour Hoffman,Willen Dafoe, Robin Wright,Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Daniel Brühl