It’s somewhat unsettling to see another typically disheveled and ailing Philip Seymour Hoffman role, knowing the state of his recent passing. It’s even more unsettling to observe his emphatically great performance in A Most Wanted Man, as expected, and fully comprehend that we don’t have the pleasure of seeing him reproduce it for us anymore. He undoubtedly carries Anton Corbijn’s textured and plot driven adaptation of John le Carré’s espionage novel that’s not as stylish or memorable as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy but retains the necessary vigour and brooding despite a notable absence of character complexity.
Gunter Bachmann (Hoffman) leads an counter-terrorism intelligence agency in Hamburg that infiltrates the Islamist community after the cities involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Russian immigrant Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) purportedly escaping torture and laying claim to his fathers fortune in a Hamburg bank run by Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe) becomes their latest target as a listed militant jihadist, being supported by human rights lawyer (or as Hoffman brilliantly describes her, a glorified social worker for terrorists) Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams).
Although the most wanted man that the title alludes to is Karpov, Bachmann is another obviously desired object in different fashion. As he struggles to achieve his task force’s intelligence gathering objectives due to trust issues and continued conflict with higher level German and US security agencies clamoring for arrests, in a meeting he illustrates a metaphor about his role in fishing for minnows to hook barracudas to catch the shark. This process is exactly how his executives view the system they work in as they use Bachmann as their barracuda to catch the pinpointed shark, amounting to a clever and unforced exposé on an exploitative and narcissistic government with exclusive rules of behaviour.
Hoffman brings luminosity to this afflicted amd flawed character in Andrew Bovell’s meticulous script that contains additional critiques of equal justice and Islamaphobia in a post-9/11 society. A pulsating final act is a notable and welcome gear change after the deftly developed threads tighten and unravel towards a very good twist. Corbijn’s statuary final shot featuring a red stop light signals an end to various aspects of the story but similarly parallels the end of a career for an actor of momentous acclaim and flair for his craft.
Edinburgh International Film Festival, 2014.