The late, four-time Oscar nominee Philip Seymour Hoffman provides us with another gripping keystone performance in “A Most Wanted Man” —the last film appearance for Hoffman before his accidental death earlier this year from drug intoxication. Unfortunately, Hoffman’s role as the leader a German spy agency was the only remarkable screen presence. This yawner from director Anton Corbijn leaves viewers more informed on the underground funding for terrorist cells but fails to captivate and draw in audiences due to its shallow support characters and weak storyline.
Hoffman’s character, Gunter Bachmann, heads a small group of German spies tasked with counterterrorism intelligence gathering inside the city of Hamburg—the epicenter from where terrorists plotted and planned the attacks on the U.S. during 9/11. Hoffman’s Bachmann must balance chasing and catching smaller terrorist targets with restraint and gaining additional intelligence in the hopes of netting even bigger al Qaeda fish.
Director Corbijn nimbly highlights the challenges of enticing ordinary people to assist government agencies in getting the upper hand against terrorist organizations. The problem is that this film doesn’t give Rachel McAdams’ lawyer, or Willem Dafoe’s banking exec character, the space or time to fully develop into the plot and solidify the storyline. Another incomplete theme transpires when Corbijn attempts to depict how well different spy agencies play together and share information in today’s covert world. Hoffman’s professional courtesy with a CIA operative (played by Robin Wright) could have been further developed but was fragmented and largely untapped.
Without stronger backup support on screen, Hoffman is left dragging on cigarette after cigarette in almost every scene. When the super spook isn’t smoking he’s slowly contemplating terrorist money trails—perhaps too cautiously, voiding any chance for excitement on the big screen until the movie’s final scene. With bourbon in his hand and little screen action to raise audiences’ pulse rates, the film battles boredom before finally dissipating into what feels like a nightcap for viewers. The pace slows to the point that every scene with Hoffman turns into a constant reminder of the gigantic acting talent we lost in real life—and wasted in this film.
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last film role is persuading and powerful to watch—but the movie ultimately falls victim to an incomplete story with weak supporting characters. Catching terrorists is supposed to be dramatic and suspenseful on film, not a dull chase following bank accounts and paper money. “A Most Wanted Man” squandered the perfect chance to showcase a phenomenal cast led by Academy Award winner Hoffman ... a missed opportunity that we won’t ever again see with Hoffman’s shocking death. It’s appropriate that Hoffman’s last word on film is an expletive shouted in a fit of emotion, a result of the film’s only excitement and drama. Perhaps Hoffman knew that his edgy finale still wasn’t enough to bring merit to this movie.