A Most Wanted Man
Novelist John la Carré has built an impressive literary career as a novelist detailing, often in exquisite fashion, the dangers and foolishness of spying. His intricate, deliberately convoluted tales have brought choice roles to actors as diverse as Richard Burton (The Spy Who Came In From The Cold) Sean Connery (The Russia House) Ralph Fiennes (The Constant Gardner) and Alec Guinness (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) captivating audiences for nearly half a century. Now the late Philip Seymour Hoffman joins la Carré’s elite group with this muted, portrayal of Gunther Bechmann, a German intelligence officer with a blemished track record now running a small, clandestine counter terrorism unit in Hamburg.
When a half-Russian, half-Chechen refugee surfaces in that German port city in order to contact a shady private banker, Bechmann and his team see an opportunity to involve this valuable young fugitive in a plan to ensnare an otherwise impeccable moderate Muslim spokesman whom Bechmann suspects of funneling money to terrorist groups. But this vulnerable human prize attracts the interest of competing German authorities as well as the C.I.A., setting up a cat and mouse climax that keeps the author’s penchant for cynicism intact…
Robin Wright, the ice-queen of Netflix’s House of Cards provides an appropriately ambiguous U.S. operative while the brilliant character actor Willem Dafoe (Platoon, The Grand Budapest Hotel) embodies the part of a well-mannered financier whose moral compass revolves as effortlessly as a weathervane. Russian actor Grigoriy Dobrygin looks the part of a harried fugitive without imbuing his character with real substance, while Rachael McAdams proves to be little more than eye-candy as an idealistic young attorney used to bait Bachmann’s trap.
But it’s Hoffman’s gruff, professionally seething secret agent with something to prove that provides the most brilliant part of this intricately presented story. At 47, with an Oscar, 87 other acting wins and an additional 63 nominations to his credit, this indescribably talented genius will end his career in a pair of future segments of The Hunger Games franchise, a sad conclusion to his illustrious career. Star of films as diverse as Capote and The Master and consistently outshining his colleagues in the widest possible type of supporting roles (The Late Quartet, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Charlie Wilson’s War, Boogie Nights, Moneyball, The Big Lebowski, etc.) Hoffman once again inhabits his character here, giving audiences a portrait of idealistic zeal masquerading behind a veneer of world-weary cynicism. In a soft voice which demands that you strain to understand every word, Hoffman lets his audience in on the style as well as the substance of contemporary spy craft in the post-9/11 world. This is one case where audiences will long bemoan the fate of the actor far more than that of his character.
Dutch director Anton Corbyn and cinematographer Benoit Delhomme bathe the back streets of Hamburg in the best film noir traditions while the movie’s climax is followed by a quintessentially la Carré-esque denouement.
The Verdict? Spy thrillers just don’t get much better than this.
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