Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a Chechen Muslim, enters Germany illegally, and immediately arouses the suspicion of a German counter terrorism espionage team, led by Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman). As Issa tries to track down his father’s money, he becomes involved with immigration lawyer Anabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), who the team soon use to their advantage in tracking down those who fund terrorism around the world.
Although A Most Wanted Man is not to be Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final film, it is his last performance in a leading role, and for that, A Most Wanted Man is a film to be remembered. Not only is this the last time Hoffman will take centre stage in a film, but it is one of his best performances in recent years. Hoffman plays Gunther as a man with a certain weight to him; world weariness combined with a passion and skill for his job is what defines the character, and it is one that Hoffman throws himself into. Although he plays a German character, his accent is not over the top – the same goes for McAdams – and he captures the essence of a man who is willing to play the waiting game to get what he wants.
Rachel McAdams also has an air of stillness about her – although not as much as Hoffman – and she manages the German accent well. She brings weight and conviction to the role, without ever overplaying her hand. Robin Wright does the same in her role as a CIA agent but Willem Dafoe slightly overdoes it as a bank manager with secrets.
The story is based on a John le Carré novel of the same name, and is as much a slow burn as le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Lives of Others or any of the great espionage movies; James Bond this ain’t, and the film goes a long way to remove the glamour and glitz from the story. In this way, A Most Wanted Man reminds the audiences that espionage is often a drawn out affair, while allowing the tension to build.
Anton Corbijn directs with a steady hand, never allowing any one actor to dominate the screen – although Hoffman steals the show – while allowing suspicions, anger and fear to bubble under the surface. A Most Wanted Man is utterly gripping, for the most part; if there were to be a complaint, it would be that perhaps the story is allowed to burn too slowly, with some of the pieces remaining out of play for a lot of the film. This sometimes leads to confusion on the part of the audience, even if you have been paying attention.
In all, A Most Wanted Man is a fitting final film for Phillip Seymour Hoffman; his performance reminds us why he is such a loss to fans of great acting, and why he was such a powerful force to be reckoned with. The film is engrossing, but at times, can be slightly too slow on the burn.