A Most Wanted Man | Film review – Philip Seymour Hoffman gets under the skin of a despairing spymaster

A Most Wanted Man - Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gunther Bachmann

Watching the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as a drained, despairing spymaster in A Most Wanted Man, it’s hard not to find the shadow of his tragically early death hanging over his character.

In this John le Carré adaptation, his last completed film, he plays the weary but dogged head of a German anti-terror unit based in Hamburg, a chain-smoking, whisky-swigging fatalist constantly struggling to keep rival espionage agencies from queering his pitch.

When an illegal immigrant, the half-Chechen, half-Russian, devoutly Muslim Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), turns up illegally in Hamburg, Interpol has him marked as a militant jihadist. Could they be wrong? And can Hoffman’s Gunther Bachmann keep Issa out of the itchy hands of the authorities for long enough to act, unwittingly, as his pawn in a more strategic, less knee-jerk fight against terrorism?

A Most Wanted Man - Willem Dafoe, Rachel McAdams

With Rachel McAdams’ idealistic human rights lawyer, Willem Dafoe’s shifty private banker and Robin Wright’s double-dealing CIA agent also in the mix, the ensuing intrigue is always absorbing, and full of interesting political and moral resonances. But the drama lacks the sweaty-palmed suspense of 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Rock photographer turned filmmaker Anton Corbijn (Control, The American) directs stylishly, effectively evoking the urban lower depths and upper reaches in which the story plays out. And Hoffman is outstanding, of course, which makes his loss all the harder to bear.


Certificate 15. Runtime 122 mins. Director Anton Corbijn.


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