Sometimes a performance in a film is so good that it actually takes away from the film itself, and makes you realize how average the movie surrounding the performance is. It happened with Denzel Washington in “Flight” and it happens with Philip Seymour Hoffman in “A Most Wanted Man”.
Directed by Anton Corbijn and starring Hoffman in his last non-Hunger Games role, “A Most Wanted Man” is a thriller based off a John le Carré novel. When German intelligence receives word of a possible terrorist hiding in the city of Hamburg, Günter Bachmann (Hoffman) and his team must act quickly in order to stop a possible threat, as well as bring down a terrorist funding operation. Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright all co-star.
In my 20 years on this earth, I have found there are two kinds of espionage thrillers: ones that are non-stop, pulse pounders, and others that are slow-burning and dry. There really is no in between. Unfortunately, “A Most Wanted Man” falls into the latter category, despite yet another immensely dedicated performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Hoffman plays a German in the film, accent and all, but he is never campy. Despite having seen him in over a dozen films, and having personally graduated from the same American high school he once attended, I never doubted Hoffman as a German. He smokes, drinks and growls his way through the film, portraying a man who sticks to his guns, even when every other person around him is doubting the flimsy evidence. When Hoffman is on screen you cannot take your eyes off of him, and when he is not there you instantly notice his lack of presence.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is not as engaging. The film wants to have you constantly guessing whether Hoffman’s target is actually a terrorist or simply just a misunderstood refugee, yet it only really feeds one side of the argument. You never really feel conflicted or question whether or not Hoffman’s team is making a mistake. You know exactly how to feel about the suspect and that takes away from some of the suspense.
The film also takes a while to get going to where it wants to get going to. Early on it makes it out to seem like the whole film will be a manhunt for a character, but then they quickly absolve that situation and then linger for about thirty minutes before finally realizing the big fish they really want to go after has been there the whole time.
There are worse espionage thrillers out there (just look at “Paranoia”, for example), but “A Most Wanted Man” is nothing special or memorable in its own right, either. The real enjoyment from the film comes from watching Hoffman on screen for one of the last times, and with every scene that passes we are reminded that we truly lost a legend. It is just a shame that everything surrounding Hoffman is nowhere near as interesting as his character. The narrative is just too bogged down and most characters outside Hoffman’s are just too underdeveloped.
There is a part in the film where Robin Wright’s CIA agent asks Hoffman, “What is it you want to achieve here?” I wanted to ask the film the same question.
Critics Rating: 5/10