A Grim Finale for Philip Seymour Hoffman
By Skip Sheffield
Philip Seymour Hoffman was brilliant at portraying complex, tormented characters.
Gunther Bachmann, the downtrodden anti-hero of “A Most Wanted Man,” is just such a character. Based on the John Le Carre novel, adapted for the screen by Andrew Bovel and directed by Dutch-born Anton Corbijn (“The American”), “Most Wanted Man” is a complex political thriller set in 2012 in the grimy port city of Hamburg, Germany. Gunther Bachmann (Hoffman, with German accent) is head of a covert German intelligence unit keeping an eye out for terrorists. The film begins with a battered suspect emerging from the sea, cloaked in a gray hoodie.
We learn the man is Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a Chechen-born, Muslim-raised Russian on the run. Rather than arrest the illegal alien outright, Gunther’s strategy is to observe him and see if he doesn’t lead the spies to bigger fish.
One of those large fish was Issa’s late father, who purloined a fortune from charitable donations to Muslim organizations. Gunther’s theory is that at least one of those organizations is a front for terrorist militants. Gunther further theorizes the local conduit is a respected businessman named Dr. Faisal Abdullah (Homeyoun Ershadi), whose college-age son Jamal (Mehdi Dehbi) Gunther has enlisted as an inside spy in hopes of catching Abdullah in the act. Always-reliable Willem Dafoe plays a shady banker who may be in on the scheme. Observing all of the above is wry American intelligence liaison, Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright, stretching her boundaries).
Running interference on Gunther’s clandestine activities is a young, idealistic civil liberties lawyer named Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams).
Lovely McAdams is playing against type in this, one of her most ambitious roles to date.
Hoffman chain-smokes, drinks and curses his way through the role of Gunther Bachmann. By the end of the film a betrayed and defeated Gunther clearly looks unwell. This makes Hoffman’s character all the more convincing, but it is a sad reminder of an immensely talented, tragic figure who was suffering more than anyone could ever know.