A final performance from a film legend: ‘A Most Wanted Man’ review


"A Most Wanted Man" features the final gripping performance from the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. (Lionsgate)
“A Most Wanted Man” features the final gripping performance
from the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. (Lionsgate)

“It takes a minnow to catch a barracuda. A barracuda to catch a shark” says Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) towards the end of Anton Corbijn’s latest thriller “A Most Wanted Man”. If that’s the case, then consider me the shark and this film (specifically Hoffman’s performance) the barracuda, because this adaptation of John le Carré’s 2008 novel is an absolute delight: a deliciously taught thriller that reels the audience in with an absolutely flawless performance by Hoffman. It’s a fitting premature swan song of one of the world’s most brilliant actors, proving that Philip Seymour Hoffman was a talent few could ever match.

The film takes place in Hamburg, Germany, a city known for housing those plotting the September 11th attacks in 2001. Günther Bachmann heads an anti-terrorist division unknown to the public, who spend hours tracking potential terrorists to ensure the world to be a safer place. Enter Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a Russian Muslim seeking asylum in Hamburg. The government believes he is trying to obtain his father’s inheritance for reasons unknown, and therefore consider him a definite threat. Issa is represented by human-rights attorney Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), who believes he’s innocent, and attempts to get him his money through wealthy banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe). Bachmann believes Issa’s innocence as well, and finds himself trying to lure him out of hiding to catch an even greater terrorist threat, before the German government gets him first.

This is Anton Corbijn’s third feature film, and the third adaptation of a le Carré novel. While “A Most Wanted Man” pales in comparison to 2011’s superior adaptation of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, it is still a tense, effective thriller that continually keeps the audience uneasy and questioning the motives of every character. Corbijn confidently creates an atmosphere of dread and panic, as new elements of the plot are revealed. He paints Hamburg a deliciously, dreary grey: a perfect palate for the dialogue, brimming with dry humor and cynicism, to sit on. He keeps the mystery alive and in the dark, as the plot slowly simmers to a boil of a climax. It’s a subdued thriller, but a subdued thriller at its finest.

What is most resonant however, are the performances, which carry along the dialogue heavy plot with ease. Rachel McAdams is effective as the human rights lawyer bent on helping Issa gain asylum and obtain his inheritance. It’s a meatier role for McAdams, and not one she’s been known to take, but she carries the heavy emotions with her best performance to date; her German accent however, needs work. Grigoriy Dobrygin also shines as Issa, showing the pain and weariness of his character through mere facial expressions, yet always keep his motives subdued, never revealing too much and adding a quiet intensity to every scene he occupies. He makes Issa a sympathetic, yet untrustworthy character. Willem Dafoe displays his expected brilliance as a banker caught in the middle of a game of cat and mouse, and Robin Wright enjoys her brief moments as a CIA operative trying to aide the German government.

But the star of the show is Hoffman; bringing every bit of gusto he has into the character of Günther Bachmann. He presents Bachmann with a hunched physique, like a man with the weight of the entire world on his shoulders. His performance is subdued as it is intense, breaking Bachmann’s cool, collective nature during the heavier moments of the film, but often sitting, observing, and delivering lines with a quiet matter-of-factness. Hoffman makes every word he says believable, and presents each line with a sense of defeat, as if he knows the world is doomed. He has a way with presenting his characters with subtle nuances, never over-acting, and staying ever enthralling in every scene he’s in. He’s able to find the little details of his character and make them shine, making a flawed character sympathetic, and embracing the humanistic qualities that many actors fail to show.

This final role of Hoffman’s may not be a major one, but it is indeed a powerful one nonetheless. He brings everything he can to “A Most Wanted Man”, something people can say about every role he’s played. Philip Seymour Hoffman never gave a bad performance and always gave the fullest of his acting potential. He was a monumental part of the film industry, and a talent that will indeed be missed. From his deep, bellowing voice, to his knack for perfectly dictating expletives, Hoffman’s legacy will be remembered, and his talent always appreciated.