"A Most Wanted Man": Philip Seymour Hoffman Steals the Show in This John Le Carre Espionage Thriller

| July 23, 2014
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Without the goneness of Philip Seymour Hoffman hanging over it, what would A Most Wanted Man be worth? Hoffman as a gruff German spy at the center of a canny John Le Carré thriller is a concept so inherently good that we may count ourselves lucky to have seen it realized before the actor died. But the same movie less successfully posits Rachel McAdams as a human rights lawyer, Willem Dafoe as a morally conflicted banker, and Robin Wright as a hawkish CIA agent with whom Hoffman's righteous old-school intelligence man, a human ash cloud of jaundiced wisdom and sly one-liners, tries to negotiate. Here, it may be an inside joke that Wright's hair has been done in the color and shape of Hitler's. As adapted by Andrew Bovell and directed by Anton Corbijn, A Most Wanted Man is an effective illustration of the Le Carré mystique, but for all the nuance of its plot — about a Chechen asylum seeker, the heir to a heap of dirty money, turning up in an Islamic enclave of war-on-terror hotspot Hamburg — the movie seems for Corbijn less an ecstasy than merely an exercise. What suspense there is comes mostly from the clarifying thrill of hanging on Hoffman's every word. We're left to mourn and to wonder: Had he not succumbed, what other movie accents might this born performer have had such a great time with?

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