He’s Gunther Bachmann, the German head of a covert team that is looking to undermine potential threats from Islamic terrorist organizations in a post-9/11 society. The film features cinematography that can be best described as sullen and pale, fitting the mood of a, at times, dismal Hamburg, Germany. It looks to be everything a spy thriller is supposed to be, boasting an international cast including the likes of Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Daniel Bruhl, Nina Hoss, and Robin Wright, who are all intriguing to see in action.
But it is Hoffman with his team that commands the most attention, as they try and monitor an escaped political prisoner from Chechnya, who is seeking refuge but is also suspected of terrorist affiliations. He is contacted by a compassionate lawyer (McAdams) who wishes to help him, but they get caught up in Gunther’s plan and try and flee from his prying eyes. It doesn’t exactly work. But really they are both part of a bigger ploy to pin down a wealthy Muslim philanthropist who could be in it even deeper with terrorist organizations. They just have to catch him with the help of some insiders and a banker (Dafoe), so Dr. Abdullah can be put away unequivocally. But Gunther also has his superiors and the American diplomat (Robin Wright) continually questioning his plans and mistrusting his motives. After all, he works for a, technically, unconstitutional organization that’s supposed to be off the radar.
What A Most Wanted Man becomes is a brooding game of watching and waiting interspersed with a few moments that get the heartbeat up. But honestly, it’s mostly waiting, and it does serve to build the tension. There is one final turn that we could probably expect, and overall this is not a film of high volumes of action. In fact, there is barely any. Except by the time it ends, we are left with the same hopelessness and moroseness that seems to float over these characters in a haze. We are constantly wondering, “Where do their allegiances lie?” or “Why are they doing this?” and in the end, it doesn’t seem to matter. This is by no means Chinatown in its intricacy or otherwise, but you do get that same sense of futility.
I must admit I was a little surprised to see Rachel McAdams playing a German, but ultimately I was able to accept it. And although my knowledge of German film is limited, it was exciting to see two talented actors like Nina Hoss and Daniel Bruhl be featured, but they regrettably were relegated to smaller, hardly interesting turns. We might have to simply content ourselves with their other roles. Because this is most certainly Philip Seymour Hoffman’s show first and last. And it would, unfortunately, end up being his last. However, he left us as jaded and distraught as ever, and that’s a compliment to the actor he was.