Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final film, A Most Wanted Man, is one of sombre conviction and tight drama as he dons the heavy duties of a German espionage agent on the brink of capturing key members of Al Qaeda.
Heading a team of attractive but deadly serious agents, or spies as they flatly refer to themselves, Hoffman’s scruffy Günther has a gut feeling that a local philanthropist in Hamburg is smuggling terrorist funds through a fabricated charity. When Issa Karpov, an illegal refugee from Chechnya and suspected terrorist, enters the country Günther’s team move in to use him as a means of confirming their suspicions.
Caught in the crossfire is Rachel McAdam’s Annabel, a cycling, do-good immigration lawyer who falls for Issa’s tortured soul. Blonde and sorrowful, she is utterly believable as the manipulated enabler, bowing to the team’s wishes on promises of a better life for her client.
Joining Hoffman’s agents are Robin Wright, channelling the sharp business-focused American diplomat and Rainer Bock as the disapproving German official, who show up occasionally to scowl and request progress reports.
It’s a close, night lit game of cat and mouse between spies and suspects, with Hoffman puffing out his chest as the wheezing, laborious feline who has a lot to prove to himself and an unstoppable desire to expose the truth. There’s barely a hint of his motivations to do this, other than the fact it’s his job, making this a character that you struggle to empathise with, especially when he turns on the bully. When it’s clear that Annabel and Issa are well intentioned, favouritism instantly shifts to their cause and the limited scope of Hoffman’s talents sours the film a little. Some supporting cast are also put to misuse, namely Daniel Brühl as a forgettable member of Günther’s team.
The story however is wrought with tension. Based on the novel by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy author John le Carré, there is ample opportunity to pile on the suspense, with pivotal moments guided expertly by Anton Corbijn and a truly taut conclusion. Those hoping for a tour de force from Hoffman may be disappointed but as a lean and effective thriller this makes for an entertaining and at times gripping watch.