Directed by: Anton Corbijn
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Daniel Brühl, Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe
Anton Corbijn's previous offering, 2010's George Clooney starring The American, left most viewers cold with its studied, stripped down approach to the crime thriller genre. Like the crime films of French director Jean-Pierre Melville, it employed a very European approach to a very American genre. The technique worked for this reviewer, however, so I was intrigued to see how Corbijn would bounce back from that movie's poor reception.
With A Most Wanted Man, Corbijn has for the most part stuck to his guns. This time he's casting his line into the waters of the spy thriller, employing a similarly patient approach as seen in his previous film. Focusing on Germany's intelligence agencies means there are few of the thrills and spills you might expect if this featured the CIA or the FBI. Instead, we get an espionage tale that plays out in dimly lit secret bunkers and safe houses, a million miles away from the travelogue stylings of the Bond and Bourne franchises.
In his final leading role (we will later see him in a small part in the upcoming Hunger Games two-part finale), Hoffman plays Gunther, a disgruntled German agent, cynicism burnt into his face by years of being undermined and double crossed by his superiors. Gunther is on the trail of Abdullah, a Muslim philantropist whose charity activities are a front for the funding of Islamic terrorist groups. When a Chechnyan refugee arrives in Hamburg to collect a large sum of money left to him by his father, Gunther sees this as an opportunity to entrap Abdullah.
I'm happy to say Hoffman bids us farewell with a classic PSH performance. His character here is a grizzled bear of a man, a walking tumor. Holding in his frustration throughout the movie, he finally explodes in the film's climax, and his character's exit is morbidly poignant.
Casting Americans as Germans sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but the Stateside actors blend in almost seamlessly with their Teutonic counterparts. Perhaps I might think differently were I more familiar with the intricacies of German accents, but Hoffman, McAdams and Defoe all sounded convincing to me. Robin Wright continues her late career revival with a great turn as a backstabbing American agent out to undermine Hoffman's team, disapproving of their more restrained European methods.
If you're after a high octane spy thriller, you won't find it here. What you will find is an immaculately constructed and realistic look at the workings of Western intelligence, with a signature Hoffman performance that serves as a worthy bookend to his cinematic legacy.
By Eric Hillis