Sodden, dishevelled and alone a young man (Grigoriy Dobrygin) pulls himself from the River Elbe. In the grey dawn of a Hamburg morning Gunther Bachmann (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) sits across from his colleague Irna Frey (Nina Hoss). A cramped office divided neatly down the centre, piles of papers, reminders pinned across the walls and a comfortable silence between them. . . .
Soon CCTV footage featuring this very same young man (Grugoriy Dobrygin) in conversation will cause a domino effect. Bachmann (Seymour Hoffman) and his team will become embroiled with CIA operative Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe) and human rights lawyer Anna Richter (Rachel McAdams). For each of them he will become their most wanted man.
Iconic stills photographer turned film maker Anton Corbijn, casts a coolly detached eye upon post 9/11 espionage fiction in this his third feature. After low budget debut ‘Control’ and George Clooney collaboration ‘The American’, Corbijn gives us a Hamburg both perpetually bleak and desolate with an idiosyncratic anti-hero to match in Gunther Bachmann.
A chain smoking, drink fuelled protagonist part counsellor, mentor and bully, much will be made of Seymour Hoffman’s performance in this film. Others may say that his accent slips on occasion, or that too much reverence will be afforded ‘A Most Wanted Man’, as it represents his last leading role in a career tragically cut short. Yes he will appear again in Mockingjay Parts I and II, but that role belongs deep in the appendixes of a biography somewhere using a minute font at best.
With that established, it is fair to say that ‘A Most Wanted Man’ offers up an admirable swansong for this most unique of character actors. His portrayal allows Bachmann to act as a linchpin for those around him. Moments of dry wit as scripted by Andrew Bovell from John Le Carre’s novel, punctuate the slow burn style of this character driven piece, allowing a subtle diffusing of tension. However this exploration of loneliness, with its brooding atmospherics, heavy accents and uncomfortable silences is best viewed as an ensemble piece.
Nina Hoss (Irna Frey), both willing accomplice and implied love interest offers strength and a level headedness to Bachmann’s more erratic side. As much as his presence dominates virtually every scene, Hoffman enables her and others to add a sense of realism essential for it to work. Similarly Willem Dafoe (Tommy Brue) who is a truly underrated actor, tones down his usual histrionics giving a measured portrayal of isolation through wealth and privilege. However there are one or two areas where things fail to convince quite so readily. Rachel McAdams (Anna Richter) as a human rights lawyer is one, her relationship with Grigoriy Dobrygin (Issa Karpov) another.
I have two concerns. One is the time that elapses between an initial meeting and their implied attraction. Another is how well this contrivance forced on by circumstance is sold to the audience. Grigoriy Dobrygin (Issa Karpov) has an innate presence similar to Hoffman, allowing him the freedom to convey thought and emotion through glances alone. Rachel McAdams is earnest in her characterisation of Anna Richter, but looks out of her depth more and more as things progress. Both Hoffman and Dobrygin, a successful actor/director in his native Russia, are formidable performers so these failings are most apparent during her scenes with them. It is fortunate therefore that the film does not suffer as a result. In all fairness such is the force of Hoffman’s characterisation that Daniel Bruhl (Maximillian), who played Nikki Lauder opposite Chris Hemsworth in ‘Rush’ recently fails to even register. As for Robin Wright (Martha Sullivan) her character is a not so cunning clone of Claire Underwood from ‘House of Cards’, apart from Martha has black hair. This is no bad thing however as Wright draws on Underwood and delivers the same underhanded snake like qualities, which make ‘House of Cards’ so watchable and her character such a draw. However the question remains. Is this ‘the’ great film with a career defining final performance or merely a good one, to be placed on a pedestal by fans irrespective of quality? An answer is unfortunately less easy to come by.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman does give a truly magnetic performance but as with all Corbijn films things move at a sedate pace. Reminiscent of Alfredson’s ‘Tinker Tailor’ and Soderbergh’s ‘Syriana’, one for look, pace and feel another shared character traits between Bachmann and Bob Barnes. ‘A Most Wanted Man’ has shown Anton Corbijn capable of making a classic cold war thriller for the 9/11 generation. On this evidence it also becomes tragically apparent how truly great a talent we have lost in Phillip Seymour Hoffman.