You always feel a pang of sadness when you encounter a work of art by an artist who passed away too early in their lives. It’s hard to read the great novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald and not ponder what other great literary ideas he could’ve given us. How far could James Dean’s career have gone had he not died at a tragically young age? Even listening to Biggie Smalls elicits sadness from me, just because it’s hard to imagine any other rapper holding his same level of talent. I expect that from this point on, this is how we will feel when watching films with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in them.
Hoffman owns his role in A Most Wanted Man, the last starring role he had prior to his tragic death earlier this year. I was happy to watch another incredible performance from Hoffman, but simultaneously sad to know that it’s likely to be the last we’ll ever see from him. Nonetheless, it was a still marvel to watch Hoffman lose himself in yet another character. Here he plays Günter Bachmann, a chain-smoking drinker who heads a shadowy anti-terrorist organization in Hamburg, Germany. While all of the characters, including Günter, inexplicably speak English at all times, each actor easily convinces the audience that they are actually German, not just Americans playing Germans.
Günter is tracking a half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant with terrorist ties while simultaneously keeping tabs on a wealthy Islamic businessman/philanthropist whose dealings may be shadier than he lets on. The less you know about this movie’s plot going in, the better. It moves at a slow, methodical pace that some people might find “boring.” But know that with each passing minute, director Anton Corbijn carefully pieces together a puzzle with a wide cast of characters, each with disparate motives (the plot is based off the John le Carre novel of the same name).
The key players are almost unanimously portrayed with a delicate level of skill. Willem Dafoe plays a banker who unwittingly gets ensnared in Günter’s scheming, while Rachel McAdams plays the lawyer looking after the immigrant, who’s played by relative newcomer Grigoriy Dobrygin. The chemistry between McAdams and Dobrygin is well-executed, and provides a crucial element of heart to a movie that often seems rather cold. Speaking of cold, the normally excellent Robin Wright pops in on occasion as a CIA operative, but fails to make any impression. She develops a relationship with Günter that seems awkward and forced. Maybe its just because Hoffman is so good, but she really pales in comparison.
But it really can’t be overstated, Hoffman is the key to this movie’s success. He adds depth to a character that could have easily become a stereotype, and never lets you know exactly who Günter is beneath his callous exterior. That is, until the film’s ending. All of the slow pacing and careful plotting leads to a surprisingly involving finale. As Corbijn lays the final piece in the puzzle, you just watch, heart-racing, unsure if someone is going to come out of the shadows and throw the entire puzzle to the ground. I’ll stay silent on whether or not that happens, but you should definitely go watch this movie to find out.
I give A Most Wanted Man an …
That means go see it right now!
Also, if you’re interested (I know you must be, all of my content is really interesting) I would put A Most Wanted Man at #4 on yesterday’s list of my favorite films of the year so far.
So have you seen A Most Wanted Man? Do you agree with my assessment? Let me know below!