A Most Wanted Man review: Phillip Seymour Hoffman excels in final role

Posted on 18 September 2014
By George Anthony Heron
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I first came across Anton Corbijn back in 1996 when Metallica commissioned some of his artwork for their Load and Reload albums. The piece was called “Blood and Semen”, a pattern of the two bodily fluids mixed together and arranged on glass. You may or may not be pleased to hear that Corbijn’s third feature film, A Most Wanted Man, contains neither of them.

An adaptation from John Le Carre’s book, a tale is expertly woven about an illegal Chechen immigrant in Hamburg named Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), who is being covertly watched by several secret agencies from around the world due to suspected terrorist activity. Leading the surveillance is one Gunther Bachmann, masterfully portrayed by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, assisted ably by his team comprising of his right-hand gal Irna Frey (Nina Hoss) and Maximilian (Daniel Bruhl), among other espionage experts.

The film throws you straight into the plot after a brief textual introduction explaining how Hamburg was the place where the 9/11 terrorists trained and has ever since been under careful watch. That’s all the hand-holding you’re getting with this one. Yes, my friends, you are going to have to pay attention. There are no super-imposed messages indicating scene location or time. No flashbacks or exposition to explain what is happening. The events unfold as the camera captures them and it’s worth making the effort to keep up.

It’s an enigma, only letting you know what it wants you to. Little pieces of information are revealed with each scene. Nothing is fully explained. The title may be called A Most Wanted Man, but the focus is on Hoffman’s character. He is the man who plays chess with real-life pieces. From an acting viewpoint, you are convinced straight away that you are watching a German spy manipulating the variables for his endgame, which is to enlist suspected terrorists as informants to lead to the next terrorist up the chain. A very similar philosophy to the squad in HBO’s TV show The Wire, where instead of just arresting the grunts of the gang, they want to “follow the money” to the top to bring the whole thing down.

Hoffman’s performance dominates the screen and is utterly compelling to watch. The way he changes his voice for his roles as in Capote and The Master, makes his roles unique, like it’s a different actor playing each part.

Corbijn is not afraid to change pace to ramp up the tension. A particular part in mind is when Lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) is detained by Gunther. The focus switches between Richter’s plight in her cell and the watchful eyes of Gunther and his team, who are aiming to get her on side. It’s like a micro-film, spy pun intended.

One thing I would say is the camera seems a little too pre-occupied with McAdams’ blue denim-jeaned posterior in the first half, especially when she is riding a bike, and one scene where she is walking up stairs. With a film so selective about the information it is willing to impart, one would not expect an important fact to be that McAdams has a great ass. You can film a woman riding a bike a certain way to avoid that, surely? Other than that, the absence of gratuitous sex and violence makes a pleasant change and the film is confident enough to not need such extraneous action.

This is an outstanding film. A classic spy movie which is just as good as Le Carre’s recent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Don’t expect lots of action but you’ll get plenty of intrigue, tension, brilliant performances and a little humour to boot. The last film from luminary Seymour Hoffman. The consummate professional who could nail any part he put his mind to, be it serious or comic. I am proud to say this is another jewel to adorn his rich legacy that he has left us with.

A Most Wanted Man is now showing at Picturehouse at FACT. For more information visit the following link: http://bit.ly/1uSt7Gz