The late Philip Seymour Hoffman will show up again onscreen in the supporting cast of the next Hunger Games. But the last full-scale Hoffman performance – and it’s a master class in acting – comes in A Most Wanted Man, Anton Corbijn’s tense, twisty and terrific spy thriller, based on John le Carré’s 2008 novel. Hoffman, who died in February, plays Günther Bachmann, a German intelligence operative. Since 9/11, Günther has been heading a small-scale spy unit that tracks the Muslim community in Hamburg, where the attack on America was formulated.
Corbijn (The American), working from a tightly packed script by Andrew Bovell, relishes lighting a long fuse to maximize suspense. The focus is on Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a newly arrived Chechen-Russian who hires human-rights lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) to collect his father’s fortune from a German bank run by Thomas Brue (Willem Dafoe). Is Issa’s motive greed or to fund terrorism?
Günther wants to know. So does everyone else in the spy racket, including the CIA, in the person of Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright). The cat-and-mouse game Hoffman plays with Wright is splendidly done.
Then again, every move Hoffman makes subtly rivets attention. There’s the uncanny German accent, the boozing, the chain-smoking, the glances at his assistant (Nina Hoss), the secret life he keeps hidden and the betrayals even Günther can’t see coming. Hoffman is simply magnificent. Face it. We won’t see his like again.