There are so many layers to “A Most Wanted Man,” but primary among them is that the movie would be Philip Seymour Hoffman's final screen performance.
Hoffman is familiar here, though he's presented with challenges, no doubt one of the reasons Hoffman took on the role. First among them is that his character, Gunther Bachmann, is a German intelligence officer. Hoffman affects a German accent with a hint of English. If this movie wasn't peppered throughout with a cast of American actors including Hoffman, Rachel McAdams (who continues to get meaty roles, yet remains unconvincing), Robin Wright (wonderfully cold as a CIA from the U.S., and almost unrecognizable in a short, dark wig), and Willem Defoe (as a German banker), it could very well be plucked from the German cinema.
They share the screen with German stars Nina Hoss and Daniel Bruhl, Russian Grigoriy Dobrygin, and the wonderful Iranian actor Homayoun Ershadi.
Hoffman plays a sort of Columbo-esque spy catcher, a guy who looks like he's in need of some mouthwash and a pressed suit, that smokes cigarettes non-stop and sucks down whiskey like it's water. Despite his size, he doesn't appear to ever eat.
As expected, the actor inhabits the role, sometimes mumbling and grumbling his way through the script. The nuanced subtleties he's assigned to Bachmann are entirely fitting for the John le Carré character, the head of "an anti-terrorism unit not many people know about and even like less," Bachmann tells us. German officials loathe Bachmann and his merry band of counterintelligence agents whose unorthodox style are always landing this leader of the pack in hot water.
And so Hoffman's Bachmann slips in and out of shadows, rumpled and rag tagged, yet with a pit bull determination to blow the lid off of a money filtering scheme, where a charity is siphoning funds to radicals.
Everyone in Le Carré's story (the screenplay was written by Andrew Bovell) has some connection: One of Bachmann's young spies is related to Dr. Faisal Abdullah (Ershadi), whose philanthropy Bachmann isn't buying; Dafoe's Tommy Brue is holding a large bankroll for Issa Kapov (Dobrygin), an escaped militant jihadist, that Bachmann is tracking along with Annabel Richter (McAdams), a lawyer that works for a human rights organization called Sanctuary North, who is aiding (make that hiding) Kapov.
More character study than spy thriller, the two-hour and 2 minute movie, thanks to the stark and stellar direction of Anton Corbijn, immerses you in an underworld that sucks the viewer in. That, too, was the ability that Hoffman had as an actor.
When Hoffman as Bachmann exits the car he's driving at the end of the film Corbijn keeps his camera fixed inside the vehicle for more than a few frames. Hoffman eventually fades from view. It's a memorable and bittersweet moment.