There he is, Philip Seymour Hoffman, brought back to life like a cinematic Lazarus for the span of a too-short two hours. This isn’t to say that “A Most Wanted Man” is too short a film; on the contrary, this rote, even inert adaptation of the John Le Carre novel is plenty lengthy enough. But I’d sit in the auditorium all day to see Hoffman reading the proverbial phone book if it meant prolonging his photographic presence just a little bit longer.
And this, his final starring role, is another vivid showcase for his talent. He plays Gunther Bachmann, an anti-terrorism operative with a checkered past, who has been “demoted” to a post-9-11 job tracking potential jihadis in Hamburg, Germany. His gut protrudes, his eyes are inquisitive but exhausted, his hair is disheveled. He exhibits a rumpled intelligence a la Peter Falk. He’s at home in the seediest bars in Germany, calling himself a “cave dweller,” and he suffers bad, outsize habits for alcohol and cigarettes. He hides reservoirs of tenderness beneath a gruff exterior.
He is utterly this character, but he’s also Hoffman in his last days, life mirroring art and vice versa. He plays a spook, and the actor himself is now a ghost. When he’s onscreen, and even when he isn’t, it’s hard to think about anything else. We just want to savor every last moment, psychoanalyze every line of dialogue for double meanings that suggest the demons underneath the drama. Even if Philip Seymour Hoffman was still with us, he’d be the only reason to see this movie; but as a postmortem reminder, “A Most Wanted Man” is unintentionally heartbreaking and essential for admirers of his craft.
Our interviews with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Willem Dafoe, Rachel McAdams and director Anton Corbijn at the Sundance Film Festival
At the resist of getting all handkerchief-y, there is a film here to review, and it’s an otherwise minor one, a passable, plotty example of second-tier Le Carre. Gunther and his team are following the travels of Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a mysterious half-Russian, half-Chechan potential jihadi who has illegally immigrated to Hamburg. Karpov has come into contact with Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), a human-rights attorney helping him seek asylum. She learns that he is set to inherit a fortune from his late terrorist father, which is kept under the auspices of a German banker (Willem Dafoe). Gunther and his colleagues, by forcing the assistance of Annabel, are hoping to lure Karpov, a small fry in organized terrorism, to a larger, money-laundering fish named Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi).
Screenwriter Andrew Bovell writes with the same expository, quippy punch of an airport thriller; I didn’t know it was based on a Le Carre book going in, but its source material will surprise no one. Dutch director Anton Corbijn, a renowned music-video auteur, brings a handsome banality to these familiar machinations of foreign intrigue, overusing his shaky-cam and flooding the overcast ambiance with gravitas even when it’s uncalled for: The story just isn’t as interesting as the filmmakers, and Herbert Gronemeyer’s heightened score, tells us it is. Most of this is a conventional spy game elevated to grandiose levels of global importance.
“A Most Wanted Man” is far from an essential Hoffman experience; it’s not “Capote” or “Charlie Wilson’s War” or “Almost Famous” (I could go on and on). But as a final send-off to a legend who burned out far too quickly, it’s well worth your time.
“A Most Wanted Man” is now screening at Megaplex Theatres througout Utah. Click here for showtimes.
Click here for our photo gallery from the red carpet premiere of A Most Wanted Man at the Sundance Film Festival.