Like many John le Carré stories A MOST WANTED MAN is so populous that it’s hard to aim at a single target and fire for a kill. There is more than merely the narrative – there is the undeniable fact that this is Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s last film and I have given great consideration to how much that affects my feelings and assessment of the film. Hoffman was a spectacular talent; he had the unique and rare ability to lose himself and morph fully into his characters so much so that you forget that he is Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I feared going into A MOST WANTED MAN that because of his tragic death I would not be able to experience losing ‘him’ to his role of Günther Bachmann. I want to be fair to the film, free of my own sorrow and sense of loss regarding Hoffman. I am deeply impressed with Director Anton Corbijn (THE AMERICAN, CONTROL) who created a beautiful, nuanced film from a complex and haunting screenplay by Andrew Bovell (LANTANA, EDGE OF DARKNESS) and based upon le Carré’s novel. No doubt there are themes in the movie which were at play in Hoffman’s own life – however horrible that may be – which perhaps amplified and added to his compelling and stirring performance. And yet, I can say that I lost Hoffman, as I usually do, to the role and the inescapable puzzle of this superb film.
While I do not typically describe plot, I will reveal that you have Hoffman as Bachmann, a German who has a team of associates who have access to everything and the uncanny ability to be exactly where they need to be when they need to be there – which is, in essence, everywhere. A drenched and emaciated young man crawls from the Norderelbe near the Port of Hamburg. He is a Muslim Chechen. There is an American played by Robin Wright, a powerful Muslim lecturer and doctor (Homayoun Ershadi), and an idealistic young lawyer (Rachel McAdams) who works for a charitable organization called Sanctuary North. John le Carré always has a lot of moving parts; seemingly independent threads and people, vague, suspicious and ambiguous motifs which elegantly and methodically weave into a comprehensive picture by the film’s conclusion. You are not granted the luxury of knowing the character’s titles, affiliations or goals for some time. It is the amorphous nature of the congregation which draws you in without even knowing for whom you are rooting or why. We don’t get to categorize the participants into neat boxes or political parties so we can align our loyalties and thus cruise through the film. You will never get off that easy with le Carre and that’s good. The plot requires attention and much of the criticism around le Carre’s books is that he’s just too demanding. A MOST WANTED MAN is worth the energy and focus, and its conclusion, which unfolds with a slow meticulous burn, each moment doubling in time, will shake you to your core. It brought me to tears. The devastation is palpable for both our main character Günther Bachmann and for the symbiotic existence we now know was present in Hoffman’s own life. Art imitating life indeed.
Anton Corbijn began his career as a music photographer and created early music videos for U2. He is a master of atmosphere and light and our mise en scene of Hamburg is sodden, dirty and gray. Buildings are hard, sharp concrete fortresses which shield those inside and prevent anyone outside from penetrating its walls and contents. As we move from the periphery of the story, from the outer circle of the target to its bullseye, textures become richer, colors rise and glow becoming more vivid as we climb higher up the ladder of society. Le Carre’s language is elegant and pointed and this screenplay by Bovell honors that to its core; it is no different. There is no superfluous chatter here and not one wasted syllable. In addition to Hoffman, Wright, Ershadi and McAdams, you have Daniel Brühl, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Nina Hoss (who was particularly compelling), and Willem Dafoe rounding out the ensemble cast. While you may not be familiar with several of these actors they are magnificent to watch and grant us convincing transport into their character’s lives, motives, fears and desires. The cast of A MOST WANTED MAN is flawlessly assembled and is particularly well balanced…with one exception; and it is Rachel McAdams who, regrettably, is just not up to the task. It is not that she is “bad” per se, it is that, as Hoffman’s Bachmann says to McAdams Richter, ‘You’re out of your league…” and it’s true. She fills the slot for the young, idealistic, beautiful do-gooder and she is all of that, but she cannot hold the center when the story comes down to her. She does not have the gravity, drive nor a necessary inner torment that her character needs to participate in the scenario in a believable way. Additionally, she cannot speak in or hold a German accent. It is the one slight in a film which would otherwise be great but, because of her, is compromised to extremely good. That is tragic. Still, A MOST WANTED MAN may very well be the best film of 2014 so far (in running with BLUE RUIN and ENEMY). Yes, even despite McAdams (whom I like. Really I do!) I can proclaim that. I cannot let go of the film. Maybe I cannot let go of Hoffman, but I don’t think it’s that simple. The story haunts me because I know that this is what transpires around the globe every day of our lives and we never see the victims, the victors or those who are seamlessly lost in the ether.
Director: Anton Corbijn
Cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, Daniel Brühl, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Nina Hoss, Willem Dafoe and Homayoun Ershadi
Running Time: 122 minutes
Movie Review A Most Wanted Man
The Cinemynx gives this movie: (4 / 5) stilettos!