A MOST WANTED MAN directed by Anton Corbijn, written by Andrew Bovell based on the novel by John le Carré, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright. An Entertainment One release. 121 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (July 25). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNN
I've been thinking about something Richard Dreyfuss told me earlier this year about Philip Seymour Hoffman's death: "We felt it so deeply because he had taken his future away from us, and we had all seen how thick and good that future was."
A Most Wanted Man lets us glimpse that future again, for the last time. In his final lead performance, Hoffman plays Günther Bachmann, a Hamburg intelligence officer whose job is to monitor persons of interest, tracking potential terrorists moving in and out of the country in case one of them turns out to be the next Mohamed Atta.
The weary spymaster character is a standard trope of John le Carré, whose 2008 novel serves as the source material. Bachmann and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's George Smiley would surely enjoy swapping stories over a drink in some out-of-the-way bar. But Hoffman makes the role his own, closing himself off in a precise, professional manner that suggests a man who's spent decades learning how to give nothing away. You can't even tell his age. He could be an old 35, a young 55 or anything in between.
When Chechen Muslim Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) enters Hamburg illegally and enlists a civil rights lawyer (Rachel McAdams) to recover a mysterious legacy in a safe-deposit box, Bachmann and his team find themselves in the middle of an international espionage operation. Is Karpov someone's operative? Is he connected to a suspected financier of terrorism? Why is the CIA - in the person of Robin Wright's "observer," Martha Sullivan - so interested?
A Most Wanted Man deploys its tangled case of surveillance and counter-intelligence with elegance and grace. Anton Corbijn (Control, The American) uses clear visual strategies to show the hows, wheres and whys of the story even before we understand what's really at stake. And the centre of his movie is Bachmann, watchful, worried, vulnerable and alive. For two more hours Philip Seymour Hoffman is with us again, as good as he ever was.