Since this is the final time we will see a lead performance from the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman in a new film, Anton Corbijn’s ‘A Most Wanted Man’ has taken on an added importance and thus an increased pressure to be a film worthy of his considerable acting talent. Based on a John le Carré novel and bearing all the right ingredients to be a continuously tense affair in the mould of Tomas Alfredson’s ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ its wonderful cast do all in their power to make it the powerhouse that it could be, but it flags quite seriously in the middle and ends up needing a very powerful ending to salvage it from the aimlessness that seemed to replace the tension gradually and then all at once.
Indeed, Hoffman is a magnetic presence and carries himself in such a way as to always draw the eye. Like all the best actors, he’s brilliant at conveying any emotion without even needing to say anything in particular, and those expressions make for riveting viewing. The decision, presumably by director Corbijn and screenwriter Andrew Bovell, to have German characters talk English throughout in a German accent seems a little strange, but Hoffman’s accent is believable and his acting definitely good enough to overcome and awkwardness. Willem Dafoe’s performance is also very good, the mark of an actor who knows how to make his mark in a role that could easily have just fallen by the wayside, and Rachel McAdams is as as consistent as usual, showing her skill and ability to take on diverse roles that mean she isn’t just retreading ground she’s already been on.
While Anton Corbijn’s direction makes sure that the atmosphere of the film never dies down, with Hamburg feeling suitably grimy as a setting as a result of the earthy shots taken of parking lots and seedy bars. Bovell’s script just seems to run out of ideas about half way through, and then we’re greeted with a middle sequence that plods when it should be driving up the suspense, making us care even more. As it is, the feeling of detachment increases and despite Hoffman’s efforts it’s hard to care about what anyone achieves in the film at all.
Its saving grace comes in the final act, and an ending that drives up the ante, providing the gripping tension that you wanted from its middle act. This is when the world of deception and double-crossing really comes in to its own as motives are hidden and no one is really sure if the other is telling the truth, and it actually feels like a shame because it proves that Bovell could have made the film a lot more consistent but maybe needed a redraft to do so. As it stands ‘A Most Wanted Man’ is a film that feels decidedly uneven and doesn’t always manage to keep the attention but is saved by top performances by a stellar cast and a brilliant final act.
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