Earlier this year, the world lost a great actor with the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman
. With him died the possibility of bringing to life countless future roles laced with the complexity and depth that Hoffman was known for.
Few other living actors are capable of doing the same.
A lesser known but particularly commendable detail of Hoffman’s life is his intense involvement in theater – a result of his rigorous training as athespian from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Acting program and an unusual immersion for a Hollywood actor figuring in the leading roles of films like Capote (2005), and Doubt (2008) which, in my mind, may have been forgettable without his nuanced performances.
With A Most Wanted Man, a quiet but stunning thriller directed by Anton Corbijn and adapted by Andrew Bovell from a John le Carré novel of the same name, we have Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final great role as Günther Bachmann, a highly trained German spy based in Hamburg and running a team of operatives focused on sussing out possible terrorist threats through contacts in the local Muslim community.
Joined by a strong and diverse cast including an unknown Grigoriy Dobrygin as Issa Karpov, a quiet bearded young Chechen refugee who enters Germany illegally; Rachel McAdams, a romantic comedy favourite who departs from playing her usual sweetself to play the ethical but cornered immigration lawyer, Annabel Richter; Willem Dafoe plays Tommy Brue, a crooked but kindly banker who once laundered money for Issa’s violent Russian father; and last but clearly not least Robin Wright as the quiet but iron willed Martha Sullivan, an enigmatic American diplomatic attaché who appears to be on Bachmann’s side.
As with the more sophisticated films about terrorism, there are many grey areas in this film, all of which are tackled with finesse by Corbijn and his skilled actors. Hoffman is quietly unforgettable as a tubby, whiskey drinking, flask toting Bachmann, the once golden child of the German espionage world, now struggling to regain his reputation after an obliquely referred to past debacle.
Instinctively aligned with Bachmann’s underlying integrity, we struggle to understand if Issa Karpov is who he says he is, an innocent in possession of a huge, dirty fortune caught up in an ugly world of suspicion that now surrounds almost every bearded Muslim, or a sophisticated terrorist with the worst of intentions.
As Bachman and Richter struggle to separate Karpov from his money in an attempt to catch the real Al Qaeda sympathisers who funnel funds from Europe to the Middle East through effective but byzantine methods, we too are caught up in a moral and ethical struggle, one that will haunt us long after the final searing scenes of this powerful, but deeply troubling film.