The late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives a strong, suitably dour performance as the spy at the centre of A Most Wanted Man. To be honest, he is really the primary reason to see what is otherwise a fairly low key thriller.
Adapted from John Le Carre’s novel, the film clearly has aspirations of the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy variety. But unlike Tomas Alfredson’s outstanding version of that spy classic, Anton Corbijn’s picture is a far less riveting affair. The story concerns a Chechen Muslim illegal immigrant whose presence in Hamburg is suspected to be part of a terrorist plot. Rather than arrest him, spymaster Gunther (Hoffman) works hard to persuade other interested parties – including the Americans – to keep their distance to see if he will lead them to the mastermind behind the plot. Further convoluting the mix are a dodgy banker (Willem Dafoe) and lawyer (Rachel McAdams), who Gunther accuses of being a “social worker for terrorists”.
The murky morality of espionage is duly examined with the requisite hand-wringing, but with little of the piercing insight into the human condition that made Tinker Tailor so memorable. On the plus side the location work is good, and Corbijn’s eye for a good image remains keen. But visually his previous films Control and The American are far more interesting. Hoffman aside, the performances are decent and the film does just enough – even if it does grind along in very low gear – to keep the audience interested. In the end though, there can be little doubt that A Most Wanted Man is, at best, a moderately wanted film.