CAPSULE: In his last leading role, and one of his better ones, Philip Seymour Hoffman is in German government anti-terrorist intelligence and is tracking a Russian-Chechen who entered Germany and Hamburg illegally. Based on John Le Carré's novel this film is something of a workout for the viewer. It does slow in the second half, but then builds to a startling ending. Anton Corbijn directs an adaptation by Andrew Bovell. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
John Le Carré's stories are all densely written and require close attention to follow. A good memory for character names and/or note taking are suggested. Certainly that is true of the first half of A MOST WANTED MAN. Frequently his view of the intelligence community requires skills more like work than entertainment. In a James Bond film one can be distracted by the scenery or by a female without losing the thread of the story. Not so with a faithful adaptation of a Le Carré story. So there is very little glamour in intelligence as Le Carré presents it. I saw this film on DVD and was glad of the opportunity to backup and re-listen to what is being said. It is not helped by Hoffman's mumbling in English but with a German accent. He smokes too much, drinks too much, and cares too much. Somehow in a movie we can tell he smells of cigarettes and sweat.
Hoffman plays Günther Bachmann who has his own investigative team planting an unlimited number of microphones and cameras to spy on suspected spies, terrorists, and their allies. It is almost comical to see him able to spy on just about anything no matter where it happens. His team finds a Russian-Chechen, suspected terrorist who has come to Hamburg to claim his inheritance from his terrorist father. Bachman's team spies on and collect information from anywhere they can get it to try to solve the enigma of the intruder. In this Bachmann's superiors are totally unsympathetic, making demands on Hoffmann and his team. Meanwhile Hoffman gets unexpected support from the American CIA who have sent a representative (Robin Wright) to benefit from Bachmann's findings. For once the CIA happens to be pushing in Bachmann's favor.
It is interesting stylistically that the film chooses to substitute German accents for German language. These days most films would have German characters speak their own language and then would subtitle it. That would probably limit a film's prospects. It is an older convention to use foreign accents for foreign languages.
This is a view we rarely see of intelligence work with different agencies pitted against each other as much as they are the enemy. And just who the enemy is is far from clear. Not all of the fog of war is on the battlefield. Hoffman's last leading role is it own kind of spy film, far removed from the fields of James Bond. I rate it high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. After a limited release in August, 2014, the film is now on DVD and is rentable (currently not streamable) from NetFlix.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1972571/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/a_most_wanted_man/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2015 Mark R. Leeper