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A Most Wanted Man ***1/2

Based on John le Carré’s novel of the same name, A Most Wanted Man is a moody tale of espionage given added weight by being Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last completed film.
When a half-Chechen, half-Russian, brutally tortured immigrant named Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) turns up in Hamburg’s Islamic community, laying claim to his father’s ill-gotten fortune, both German and US security agencies take a close interest. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Günther Bachmann – a German intelligence operative determined to get to the truth behind Karpov’s story… and, in doing so, to also expose a seemingly innocent philanthropist suspected of funding terrorist activities.
This is a quality item. Forget Bond. Forget bullets and explosions. This is a glimpse behind the curtain into the shadowy world of espionage that fans of le Carré have come to expect.
It’s an uncomfortable watch, to be honest. And that’s only because it feels so authentic. I’m relieved to say that the subject matter is a million miles away from my day-to-day life, but I can easily imagine that this really is how the cloak and dagger stuff is done in the modern world.
And Cyprus gets a mention (though that’s not necessarily a good thing, given the context!) Well shot, and well acted, it looks real and feels real. Methodically told and methodically paced, it’s somewhat cold, not to mention cloying. Granted, it might not have you booking Hamburg as your next holiday destination, but the city certainly lends itself to the shady shenanigans played out here.
The story is refreshingly straightforward, and the cast are all good. But it is Hoffman who shines. Even in a role that is somewhat shambolic (at least physically) Hoffman underplays with panache. A superior espionage thriller (the word “spy” just seems so crass!), this is a genuinely gripping movie. Of course, being le Carré, it’s hardly a feel good flick, but it is solid, believable, intelligent, well-observed, and well-written. And, perhaps most importantly in the greater scheme of things, it also serves as a fitting send-off for one of the finest actors of his generation.

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Daniel Brühl
Director: Anton Corbijn

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