Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the finest film actors of his generation, when we lost him way-too-early at the age of 46, during February of this year. Anton Corbijn’s “A Most Wanted Man” is PSH’s final starring movie role(he’ll play a supporting part in the upcoming 2014/2015 one-two punch of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay”. Parts 1 & 2, of course!), and he’s the main reason to see this feature. It’s not a bad one to go out on. In fact, the motion picture occasionally crackles with intensity–usually when Mr. Hoffman graces the screen. His performance as Gunther Bachmann, a German espionage agent, quickly becomes his typical acting Master Class. All grunts and heavy-breathing, from a character worn down by age, alcohol and atrophy–but with a mind as sharp as a tack. His instincts are mostly correct, even as his motivations are sometimes muddy. It sets up what proves to be a wistful finale–an unexpected fade-out on a marvelous performer’s life and career. Am I selfish to feel that Hoffman owed us more?
A Chechen refugee named Issa Karpov (a fine Grigoriy Dobrygin) illegally enters Germany, and is quietly tracked by agent Gunther Bachmann (Mr. Hoffman). It seems that Karpov has been deemed a potentially highly dangerous terrorist, and both Russian and American intelligence are interested in his movements and undertakings. Simultaneously, Bachmann begins watching the activities of a Muslim benefactor named Dr. Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi)–who may be funding terrorist actions. Karpov soon enlists American immigration lawyer Annabel Richter (a somewhat misused, Rachel McAdams) for assistance, while Bachmann fends off U.S. diplomat Martha Sullivan (an icy Robin Wright). Tommy Brue (the always perfect Willem Dafoe) is a sleazy banker that attempts to help Karpov, as his father once helped launder money for Karpov’s dad. Soon, Bachmann finds himself in a conundrum of whom to apprehend–and who to let slip quietly into the night.
Hoffman receives abundant support from an able cast, with Mr. Dafoe and Ms. Wright turning in solid portrayals. I believe that Rachel McAdams is a fine actress, but I wasn’t always convinced with the authenticity of her character arc here–it often too readily embraces the conventional. Anyway, not her fault…for blame look to Andrew Bovell’s mostly on-target screenplay, or John le Carre’s original novel. If sometimes dour, and leaden, and oh-so-cold, “A Most Wanted Man” craftily earns its keep with its appropriate(and well-timed) bursts of vitality. It’s an intelligent and thoughtful work. It misses greatness (Corbijn’s “The American”, from 2010, is far superior), but remains a terrific final starring showcase for Mr. Hoffman. I’ll miss his detailed process work as well as his improvisational dexterity. A great loss to the acting world, “A Most Wanted Man” is one Hoffman’s last cinematic presents. Unwrap it.