The director of The American films a book by the guy who did Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy starring the guy from Doubt and the gal from Mean Girls who isn’t Lindsay Lohan.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last performances, plays Gunther a world weary secret operative who runs a small team of spooks in Hamburg, Germany, tasked with spotting Islamic terrorists before they can put together a plot similar to that hatched in the same city in 2001 and which brought down the World Trade Center. A young Chechen refugee Issa (Grigori Dobrygin) enters the country illegally, seeking the help of an idealistic young lawyer Annabel (Rachel McAdams) and a dubious banker (Willem Dafoe) to access millions of Euros his Russian father has hid away. Gunther’s team stealthily circle their prey hoping that the Chechen might prove bait to an apparently moderate Islamic leader who might however be a front for terrorists. Gunther will have to contend not only with the terrorists but also with the hawkish elements of his law enforcement rivals and the smiling duplicitous presence of Robin Wright’s CIA operative, an observer with all the strings held lightly in her hand.
Anton Corbjin’s film looks wonderful. He has a particular talent for placing his characters in startling settings and Hamburg becomes a character in itself with its 1960s architecture all modernist angles and concrete, blessed by the occasional park and laced with ancient sex shops and sea port dives. Hoffman looks perfect in the role and in the city. He shambles about smoking cigarettes as if they are his only form of nutrition and helping himself to generous servings of whisky. He is a man who refuses to look the world in the eye, except when he has to compel that world to do something potentially terrible. As with The Lives of Others, the spooks live half lives somewhere between shabby Olympic Gods and peeping Toms, although Hoffman is such a charismatic screen presence that we are as manipulated and compelled as his stooges are.
The film subsequently suffers whenever we are asked to care too much about Issa or Annabel and their feelings for each other. Rachel McAdams looks out of place, though that is also the function of her character and Issa scrubs up a little too well to be credible. That said A Most Wanted Man is a solid addition to the filmography of John LeCarré adaptations and another sad reminder of what we lost when Philip Seymour Hoffman took his final bow.