Writers: Andrew Bovell (screenplay), John Le Carre (novel)
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Willem Defoe, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Daniel Bruhl
Running Time: 122 mins
The lowdown: With a script adapted from John Le Carre’s post-9/11 espionage novel, an intense posthumous performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, a classy cast and a topical ‘terrorist cells are scary’ plot, A Most Wanted Man should be thrilling. Unfortunately, director Corbjin’s glacial pacing and the sidelining of key characters render this adequate rather than extraordinary.
The full verdict: If Philip Seymour Hoffman’s leading man swansong is a rather lacklustre affair, it’s in no way down to the incomparable actor himself.
His deft turn as sad-eyed, dishevelled spymaster Gunther Bachmann is another subtly nuanced creation, peppered with sudden bouts of angry physicality as he drinks, smokes and paces around an insalubrious, ecru Hamburg on the hunt for Islamic extremists.
Muslim half Russian/half Chechen illegal immigrant Issa (Dobrygin) flees to Germany after a term of imprisonment only to find himself caught in a conflict of interest between Bachmann’s intelligence team, German security operatives and American attaché Marsha Sullivan (a raven-haired, raptorial Robin Wright).
Bachmann has 72 hours to use Issa’s ‘minnow’ to catch a ‘barracuda’ before the other parties intervene but Corbjin (Control, The American) never gives us the sense of a countdown. 2011’s ‘Tinker, Tailor…’ proved spy thrillers needn’t rely on explosions and epic car chases to produce excitement, but when dealing with a race against time they should include a few ‘will-they-make-it?’ moments.
Despite accents occasionally taking a leisurely European tour, the supporting performances are solid. Frustratingly, Bachmann’s team are represented as little more than thinly-sketched ciphers; Daniel Bruhl cruelly wasted in a minor role spent gazing at monitors, relaying vital statistics.
Only Nina Hoss as Bachmann’s statuesque second-in-command is allowed room to impress; her sparky exchanges with Hoffman imbued with an air of old-fashioned spy sexiness.
Willem Defoe also receives short screen time shrift as a banker besotted with Issa’s attractive, sympathetic ‘social worker for terrorists’ (McAdams), who in turn is moved to make increasingly dangerous decisions by her growing attachment to her client.
Two hours should be ample time to pull on this thread while keeping a tight rein on the tension but Andrew (Edge of Darkness) Bovell’s screenplay sidelines the intriguing triangle to focus on the murky political machinations instead. He clumsily shoehorns sentiment into the third act which sits awkwardly with the otherwise clinical tone.
All this leads to a muted conclusion and a poignant final shot that, like its leading man, leaves us feeling there was so much more to offer.