Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last starring role is in this egghead “thriller.” A Most Wanted Man is another one of those talky John le Carre adaptations of bloodless spy games with wordy dialogue and over-knotted plot. Every cold business scene discusses methods of how to track a terrorist. For its malarkey fictional sake, it is said that 9/11 terrorists devised their hijackings out of Hamburg, Germany, and now years later one man wants to be on top of sniffing out terrorists before they ever get too far ahead again. This would be Hoffman as Gunter Bachmann, head of an anti-terrorist task force in Germany, who is haunted by the failure of not preventing 9/11. Yet he’s something of a stuffy arrogant windbag who holds meeting after meeting with government officials, undercover spies and American diplomats. Semantic issues get debated at length with one set of characters, repeated with another set of characters.
It’s so pompous and longwinded. That goes for Hoffman’s performance as well, who does however bring on added layers of interest, where without him as a star presence, there would be less to this tale. Hoffman gives a muted, nerdish foreign accent that is dead-on, it’s an uncanny vocal triumph that reminds us of what he pulled off in several other roles (“The Master,” “Capote”) before we lost him to an untimely death earlier this year. And yet oddly, when it comes down to it, the voice doesn’t match the body. His voice is gravelly, suppressed in dire seriousness and low decibel all the time, to the point I’m surprised the character doesn’t have a stroke in this movie.
Other actors to lend a hand include Robin Wright, Daniel Bruhl, Willem Dafoe, Rachel McAdams and Kostja Ullmann. They don’t speak normal, they speak in code. Hoffman and company find a suspect eventually whom they want to trap, a financier on world terror who gives large sums to Muslim “charities.” This rings a bell to the “Casino Royale” James Bond plot, but instead it is hushed and limited on excitement – until a tricky suspenseful finale that is winning raves. I merely nudged around in my seat and nodded with subdued appreciation.
“The Russia House,” “The Tailor of Panama” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” were other nebulous le Carre quagmires that teased profundity but said nothing. Your head comes out in a fog when you’re done with these movies, and as for “A Most Wanted Man,” it’s a rare breed indeed – a cerebral potboiler. The only le Carre adaptation to date, by the way, that wowed me was “The Constant Gardener” with Ralph Fiennes. But, let’s bring up the main reason for this movie review. Hoffman! Hoffman! How we miss you. I wonder though if we would have all been happier if Hoffman had skipped this and found a way to greenlight “Along Came Polly 2.”
121 Minutes. Rated R.
DRAMA / ADULT ORIENTATION / SATURDAY NIGHT HEADSCRATCHER
Film Cousins: “The Russia House” (1990); “The Tailor of Panama” (2001); “The Lives of Others” (2006, Germany); “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (2011).