Anton Corbijn’s brooding espionage-thriller “A Most Wanted Man” doesn’t follow any popular spy movie blueprint or formula and the movie is better for it. It won’t take audiences long to notice the intentionally deliberate pacing, dialogue-driven suspense, and strong character focus. All of these elements create a very grounded and methodical procedural that relies heavily on great performances and a strong screenplay from Andrew Bovell.
“A Most Wanted Man” isn’t just a unique thriller. It also has the sad distinction of being Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s final performance. He plays Günther Bachmann, the head of a German anti-terrorist group. He’s a heavy smoker, drinks a lot, and often times looks unkept. In fact, in an unfortunate case or art imitating reality, he looks terribly unhealthy. But Hoffman takes whatever personal struggles he may have been going through and injects them into this character creating someone full of raw authenticity.
When a Chechen Muslim on Interpol’s radar illegally enters Hamburg Günther and his team begin tracking him down in hopes of catching bigger fish in a potential terrorist ring. Complicating things is a German security official (Rainer Bock) who wants to apprehend the Chechen instead of using him. Then there is an American intelligence agent named Sullivan (played with fascinating mystery by Robin Wright). No one knows her intent and Günther doesn’t trust her from the start.
The story spins in several different directions and we are kept on our toes by some interesting twists and character developments. It becomes a movie of ‘who is a terrorist and who isn’t’ and ‘who can I trust’. Watching Hoffman navigate through this maze of clues and information is half the fun. Willem Dafoe shows up as a banker with a very shady past and Rachel McAdams has a hefty role as a human rights attorney who latches on to the Chechen suspect’s case. Both characters play key roles in the unfolding story.
When you’re working with this type of material you have to trust your cast and they are all good here. I still find myself drawn to Wright’s performance and the unshakable confidence she brings to her character. Dafoe is also spot-on and many of the film’s great scenes have him in them. McAdams
is good although she often has trouble keeping her accent. But this is truly Hoffman’s film and he strips away every shred of showmanship in portraying this sad and weary soul whose life revolves around his work. He is obsessive to a fault, but that’s also what helps to make him such a compelling character.
“A Most Wanted Man” may not be for everyone and that’s a shame. It’s a slow burn meticulously built around nuggets of information we glean from conversations, interviews, and observations. It’s compelling stuff – crisp and razor sharp. There was a moment or two where I wasn’t sure what was being discussed and there are a couple of lulls. But even in those moments there is still Hoffman’s sublime performance. If there had to be a final performance this a fitting one – conscientious, complex, and forceful. It’s a clear reminder of the natural ability this man had as an actor.
Great! This is in my stack to catch up to. Thanks, Keith.
You bet. I think you’ll be pleased. It really is an exclamation point on a great career. Hoffman is do good here.
Well said Keith. I miss PSH oh so much.
I really liked A Most Wanted Man; it’s a shame this movie was for the most part overlooked by critics and audiences alike. It’s def a slow-burner, but I took from it how difficult these people’s jobs are: having to treat a potential terrorist as a human being first and NOT jumping to the very first conclusion that he is indeed a no-good son of a bitch. This was a well-crafted piece. I wish it had done better at the box office.
You’re exactly right. It seems to have been tossed aside and forgotten. I hate that because it deserves an audience. And Hoffman was fabulous. I really wanted to slip him on my list of Top 5 lead performances.
Well said…it’s such a shame he is gone. I still have to see a few of his films, and this is one of them. Keen to see it as I’ve been impressed by Corbijn elsewhere. Control was one of my favourite films the year it came out (2008, I think).
It’s funny, I wasn’t the biggest fan of PSH. Definitely not like most people. But that changed later in his career. I really began to appreciate what he could do. He was so talented in front of a camera.
If I’m being honest here, I actually fell asleep during this. I don’t mean that as a criticism though. It was very late at the time. I really need to get back to it. From what I saw, it was looking very good. Hoffman, as always, delivering. Such a damn shame about that man!
It’s not a movie that will jolt you awake. It’s very talky. Definitely give it another try. It’s a very unique little thriller that follows its own unique set of guidelines.
Good stuff mate. Fancy seeing this at some point if just to see PSH again in something new. Looks like the perfect Saturday night rental.
Absolutely worth renting. PSH is in top form which makes his sudden death all the more sad.
I really need to catch up on this film, it somehow fell through the cracks for me when it was released.
Same with me. I finally gave it a look on DVD and I’m glad I did. I hate to admit it but the only reason I gave it a shot was because it is Hoffman’s last performance. It’s also one of his best.
Nicely done Keith. This was a good film, but I felt like some of the development of narrative was so subtle that it killed the overall impact of the climax. I felt like I needed to know that ‘most wanted man’ more, and instead I found myself not caring as much as I could have, or should have.
Thanks man. Interesting response. I found myself drawn more and more into the story. It’s a bit sneaky the way it draws the audience in. Nothing big or loud. Just a slow-burning procedural that peels back the layers small bits at a time. It’s definitely subtle and I think it does spin its wheels in places. But overall it worked for me.
It’s on my to-see list. Hoffman never fails to grip me with his performance – such a sad shame he won’t make any more movies.
It really is a shame. I wasn’t always a fan of Hoffman but I have really grown to appreciate his work over the past couple of years. This might be one of his best performances and that’s saying something.
Hey Keith! I’ve been wanting to check this one out but knowing it’s from John Le Carre’s novel I figure it’d be more of a slow burn. Sounds like it’s worth a watch even just for Hoffman.
It is absolutely a slow burn but a very compelling one. On paper it questionable how Le Carre’s work will translate to screen. But I was surprised at how it drew me in. And Hoffman is fantastic. A sad performance that seems to have been drawn from his real life experiences at the time.
Nice review. This was actually one of my favorite movies of the past year. Not a perfect movie, but really thrilling and a great final lead performance by Hoffman.
Hey man, great to hear from you! Hoffman was superb wasn’t he? You truly get the sense that he is channeling from some real life struggles. Just a great reminder of his immense talent.