Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rachel McAdams in A Most Wanted Man
In the last performance of his career, Philip Seymour Hoffman gives us a damn fine one. That is for sure. This role wasn’t an easy one to take on. John le Carré always gives us these rich and difficult characters to latch onto in his novels. Just look at The Constant Gardner and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. They all had these big actors playing the main character, but it was never flashy or showy. They have to sink into these roles in order for the true character to be present. And from what I’ve read, le Carré wasn’t completely sold on Hoffman playing his character right away. But leave it to Philip Seymour Hoffman to be the one to truly stand out.
People hear the words “Spy thriller” and instantly think that it is going to be some action-packed movie filled with car chases and gun battles. Those people would be wrong. This is no Bourne Identity. For similar titles, look no further than The American or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. A Most Wanted Man shows the reality of true spy work; the dirty work that takes time and gets done in the streets. You would never think a scene so simple as an individual signing a contract to be filled with so much intensity, but it is. That is what is at work here. Not flashy shootouts, but honest and intense spy thrills; real spy thrills.
I actually loved The American and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for the same reasons that I liked A Most Wanted Man. Yes, their stories are more of a “slow-burn” rather than having constant action that makes the viewer feel out of breath. They are obviously different type of spy movies, but they all have the same pace. And I like that.
A Most Wanted Man stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as Günther Bachmann, the leader of a secret anti-terrorism team within Hamburg, Germany who’s job is to try and develop key sources within the Islamic community in order to eventually lead to high-profile suspects. And coming out of the waters in Hamburg would be Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a big-bearded Chechen who government agencies classifies as a militant jihadist who has escaped Russia. He finds refuge with an extremely generous Turkish family, who help him to meet a German attorney who just so happens to have experience with illegal immigration.
That German attorney is played by Rachel McAdams, who was surprisingly convincing. She works for a human rights organization named Sanctuary North. And Issa enlists her help to try and connect him with the head of a private bank that stores his deceased corrupt military father’s mass amounts of cash. That man is Thomas Brue (Willem Dafoe).
And that isn’t the only person Hoffman’s character has to keep tabs on. He also has his eyes on Dr. Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), who makes speeches on why terrorism is bad and all of that fun stuff. He is what Bachmann sees as a higher profile target, and he wants to connect everything.
Bachmann’s anti-terrorism unit is one not many people know about and the people that do know about them, hate them. The intelligence community is on high alert ever since the planning of the 9/11 attacks apparently started in Hamburg. So they created this secret security/anti-terrorism group that get the dirty jobs. I believe he even says the unit exists because “German intelligence needs a job to be done that German law won’t let them do.”
Hoffman plays so many different layers to this character, it’s no wonder he is getting critical acclaim. He fades into this Bachmann character, seeming just like an ordinary guy with an extraordinary job. He smokes in this movie just about as much as Brad Pitt eats in his films. He is slow and looks tired all of the time. But he is also determined and emotional at the same time. He plays the harsh interrogator and the warm handler with his Islamic source. And he does this all simultaneously, and it all looks easy to him. It feels completely natural.
The movie makes it clear that this unit takes their time. They watch, they listen, and they wait. That directly conflicts with the other organizations that have a different point of view on how matters like this should be handled. One of the main ones come in the form of the American CIA. A conversation he has with a polished CIA agent named Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) sent in to help shows that exact thing. She wants the same thing but he knows that they go about it in different ways. If this Karpov is a terrorist, he knows the Americans will just have him killed and it’ll go away. But he gathers information. That will all be for nothing if these other organizations storm in and ruin their hard work and dedication. It would all have been for nothing.
The acting in this movie is fantastic. I can’t say enough about Hoffman. He is flawless in this film, perfecting a German accent that took me all but two seconds to get used to. Is he worthy of a posthumous Oscar? Probably not. But as far as final performances go, he went out with a great one. Also fantastic was Rachel McAdams. I never thought I would ever type those words. But yes, the actress from The Notebook and The Time Traveler’s Wife brings us a fantastic performance where even her German accent is completely convincing. Willem Dafoe is really good as the seedy head of a private bank who is just as scared of this whole thing as anyone would be. Robin Wright is pretty much Claire Underwood from House of Cards, just toned down a lot.
A Most Wanted Man is a very good movie. It goes at its own pace and I was never not glued to the screen. All of the characters and stories kept my interest very well and the ending will have you thinking about it on the car ride home from the theater. It shows the bleek nature of the town of Hamburg, Germany to great extent. This film doesn’t go in for cheap thrills. There isn’t a gun fight, there is a fat man doing a foot chase. Much different kinds of suspense. Great performances all around and good directing make A Most Wanted Man a great spy thriller all around.
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Günther Bachmann
Rachel McAdams as Annabel Richter
Willem Dafoe as Thomas Brue
Grigoriy Dobrygin as Issa Karpov
Daniel Brühl as Max
Derya Alabora as Leyla
Nina Hoss as Erna Frey
Robin Wright as Martha Sullivan
WHAT I LIKED:
+: Hoffman’s performance is reason enough to see this film. He blends into his character perfectly, morphing himself into this tired German intelligence leader. You never for a minute think twice that this guy is German. And it is a great final performance.
+: All-around stellar acting, especially from Hoffman and McAdams.
+: Slow-paced storytelling that builds up to some pretty intense scenes that are executed extremely well.
+: Raw ending.
+: I liked The Bourne Identity as much as the next guy, but sometimes, the real spy work is a joy to watch as well.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
-: Robin Wright’s character seemed a little too similar to her character on House of Cards. I’m not sure if that is on her or the writing, but I could never really connect with her character because it seemed to similar.