Not counting his supporting roles in the two upcoming Hunger Games movies, A Most Wanted Man marks Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final turn in a lead role, and it’s a fascinating performance. The actor turns his voice into a low growl with a trace of a German accent, and he exudes the demeanor of an old-school type who doesn’t trust how the espionage game works in the post-9/11 era.
The actor plays Gunther, the leader of a tight-knit intelligence unit based in Hamburg, where the attack on the Twin Towers was planned. He’s constantly on the lookout for potential new threats. One of them is a bedraggled Russian named Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin), who is reconnecting with a local Muslim leader on Gunther’s watch list. At times strongly reminiscent of Homeland but written at a much higher level (the movie is based on the novel by John le Carré), A Most Wanted Man is a thriller about the workings of government agencies and spies so paranoid, they don’t even trust each other. The script, by Andrew Bovell, is dense but accessible: Unlike Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, this film does not bury its plot under suggestion and implication: Director Anton Corbjin (The American) is subtle but not inscrutable so. Still, close attention must be paid.
Rachel McAdams as a human rights lawyer, Robin Wright as a CIA agent and Willem Dafoe as a high-level German banker add intrigue to the story, playing characters you’re not always sure can be trusted (the casting of Inglourious Basterds’ Daniel Bruhl in a do-nothing role is a weird distraction in a movie already stuffed with red herrings). Like most of le Carré’s novel, A Most Wanted Man has a veracity most spy thrillers lack, and the suspense is of the intellectual, not visceral, kind. There’s no gunplay here, no sudden assassinations or fistfights. Instead, you get the slow tightening of a noose around the neck of a suspect who may or may not be guilty and a clock ticking on a complex operation that is spiraling the wrong way. You also get the last great work from Hoffman, whose icy demeanor and bullish tenaciousness reveal two more facets of a gifted actor who still had so much to give.
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Daniel Bruhl.
Director: Anton Corbjin.
Screenwriter: Andrew Bovell. Based on the novel by John le Carré.
A Roadside Attractions release. Running time: 121 minutes. Vulgar language. Playing at area theaters.