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A Most Wanted Man - DVD Review

A Most Wanted Man

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THE late Philip Seymour Hoffman presents an acting masterclass in Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man – a slow-burning spy thriller of high style and chilling contemporary resonance.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by John le Carré, yet tailored to the strengths of its leading man, this is an absorbing character study that, by the very nature of the world it seeks to expose, has a cold, detached kind of feel. But that only makes it more gripping.

The plot picks up as a potential terrorist threat named Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin) arrives in Hamburg and immediately is placed on the radar of German intelligence operative Günther Bachmann (Hoffman), who must decide whether to pick him up straight away or wait and see what bigger fish he may lead to.

Primarily, this could involve finally getting enough evidence to prove that a wealthy Muslim (Homayoun Ershadi) is funnelling money to Islamic terrorists. But it also involves liaising with a feisty immigration lawyer (Rachel McAdams), a potentially untrustworthy CIA agent (Robin Wright) who represents US interests in Hamburg and an international banker (Willem Dafoe), who is ripe for having his conscience pricked.

Using as its hook the fact that Hamburg was used as a planning ground for the real-life 9/11 attacks on America due, in no small part, to the reluctance of the various intelligence agencies to work with each other, Corbijn’s film proceeds to weave a complex web of intrigue where no one can really be trusted and everyone has something bigger to gain.

Unlike the novel, which placed Dafoe’s banker and his relationship with McAdams’ laywer front and centre, the film concentrates its focus on Hoffman’s increasingly desperate Bachmann and, as a result, delivers a terrific platform upon which for the actor to strut his enormous talent.

Bachmann is an enigmatic presence; at first glance, a dishevelled wreck whose better days are behind him and whose current existence is dictated as much by past regret as it is a sustained need for booze and cigarettes. Yet burning inside is a fiercely determined individual whose anger at past wrongs provides a steely drive that isn’t averse to risk taking.

Hoffman beautifully presents these layers, his nuanced performance making up for the slow pacing by virtue of his effortless magnetism.

But there’s solid support, too, from the likes of Wright as a potentially self-serving ally, Nina Hoss as one of Bachmann’s more alert colleagues and McAdams’ lawyer. Corbijn’s direction is suitably eye-catching, too, with good use of location, lighting and the occasional set piece to keep viewers on their toes.

There are flaws, of course. Some characters suffer from too little screen time (such as Dafoe’s banker and Daniel Brühl’s sidekick), while the deliberate pacing may be too slow for some tastes (particularly those who like their spy movies to move with the briskness of a Bourne or Bond).

But given its contemporary relevance and the fact that this provides one of the last opportunities to catch Hoffman at his very best, A Most Wanted Man has to rate as essential viewing for any fan of intelligent, performance-based cinema.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 122mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: January 19, 2015