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This one hurt a bit. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in his final non-Hunger Games performance (and I don’t care about The Hunger Games except for him in them) in Anton Corbijn’s fantastic A Most Wanted Man. The film also stars Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Homayoun Ershadi, Daniel Brühl, and Nina Hoss.
The film is a subtle, slow burn, spy drama where Hoffman plays Günther Bachmann, the leader of a covert German anti-terrorist unit operating in Hamburg. When a young man (Dobrygin) sneaks into the country to claim an inheritance left by his father, he sets of a chain of events that triggers multiple groups into action. The illegal immigrant is as the center of Bachmann’s attentions and is unknowingly the only shot at a man who may or may not be directly funneling money to Al-Qaeda.
Where A Most Wanted Man shines is in its writing and acting. Written by Andrew Bovell and based on a book by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy author John le Carré, is a highly intelligent and realistic (at least from what I can surmise) depiction of the different methodologies of espionage. The way Bachmann handles situations and flipping assets is far different from Wright’s Sullivan, an American out for the same suspected Al-Qaeda associate. Both characters are asked what their intentions are and they both reply in different scenes under dissimilar circumstances that their goal is “To make the world a safe place”, but the different context of each moment really hits home the differences between the two.
As great as James Bond is, this is what real spies do. There is a lot of sitting and listening in basements and vans. A lot of surveillance footage to watch and rewatch. A lot of names, a lot of paperwork, and a lot of bosses that want something different all at the same time. Like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, this is a vey slow film, only for patient viewers. It is more comprehensible than TTSS, but it still complex enough that it requires 100% of your attention and thankfully the film is good enough that it deserves it.
The whole ensemble is great in the film. No one is giving an overly showy performance or diving into long tear filled monologues as all the characters are professionals with a job to do. Hoffman is of course a standout like he’s been throughout his career, which tragically ended far too soon. What he brings to the character are qualities that only Philip Seymour Hoffman could as a quiet man with one of the world’s most stressful/important jobs. He’s a chain smoker and a heavy drinker who pours liquor in every cup of coffee, but he’s nowhere close to being a falling down drunk. Bachmann feels like a real human, who feels frustrated at times, who cracks a joke with his team members every now and then, and feels the weight of a previous failed mission, where lives were lost, and how that failure stuck him in Hamburg. He distrusts his bosses and rightfully distrusts the Americans, but has to suck it up because it’s part of the job. The rest of the cast, especially McAdams and Wright, are great, but this is Hoffman’s film through and through.
Shot by cinematographer Benoit Delhomme, the film also visually looks great. Hamburg is gritty and dark, but with vibrant colors coming from every direction. There is always a grey overcast in the sky that reflects the moral grey area each and every character is now in. Corbijn did a fantastic job with A Most Wanted Man, a spy film for intelligent adults and a spectacular subdued performance from Hoffman in his third to last film (or second to last if you count the last two Hunger Games as one) is one that can’t be missed.
Film to check out after A Most Wanted Man