Release Date: July 25, 2014
Rating: R for language
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 121 min.
Director: Anton Corbijn
Actors: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Nina Hoss, Vicky Krieps, Daniel Brühl, Homayoun Ershadi

The closing image of A Most Wanted Man, the new film from director Anton Corbijn (The American), shows lead character Gunther Bachmann exiting his car and walking off screen. It’s a emotional moment, not only because of the story’s powerful climax but because we know the actor playing Bachmann—Philip Seymour Hoffman—won’t be walking off the screen in future productions. The Oscar-winning performer died earlier this year from an “acute mixed-drug intoxication including heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines and amphetamine,” according to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in New York.

Hoffman’s strong performance in A Most Wanted Man reminds us again of what we lost when he died. Yet as well-acted as A Most Wanted Man is by Hoffman and his co-stars, its coldness and unhurried pacing make the film a bit of an endurance test. Similar to director Thomas Alfredson’s adaptation of Le Carre’ Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), A Most Wanted Man, which condenses a 334-page John Le Carre novel into a two-hour movie, is sometimes difficult to follow, not to mention emotionally cold and deeply cynical.

Gunther Bachmann (Hoffman), a spy in Hamburg, Germany—where the 9/11 terrorists plotted before carrying out their attacks in the United States—leads an anti-terror unit that includes Irna (Nina Hoss), Niki (Vicky Krieps, Hanna) and Maximillian (Daniel Bruhl, Rush). The agents are determined not to let another terrorist plot unfold within the city, so when a mysterious Chechen, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), arrives in Hamburg, the team goes on high alert.

Issa is looking for a banker (Willem Dafoe, The Grand Budapest Hotel) who can give Issa a large inheritance from Issa’s father. Gunther thinks the money might end up in terrorist hands, especially after Issa declares his father’s money “dirty” and passes it on to a Muslim academic, Dr. Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi). Abdullah plans to divide the funds among several Muslim charities, but Gunther suspects the charities are cover for terrorist operations. With the help of CIA spy Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) and by working with Issa’s lawyer (Rachel McAdams, About Time), he’s determined to keep the money from funding terrorist operations.

That’s a lot to keep track of, and Corbijn manages to keep the storytelling coherent. The problem with A Most Wanted Man, to the extent there is one, is the way the story drags even amid its busy plot. The pacing is glacial, but we trust it’s all going somewhere, and when it gets there, the payoff is nice—a conclusion that surprises yet fits with Gunther’s stated concerns throughout the film. Still, the jolt of the story’s powerful ending is a long time coming. 

A Most Wanted Man gives us one more Hoffman performance to relish. The two-hour film provides us the time to appreciate what Hoffman has done—again—with a juicy role, and how the rest of the ensemble cast is at the top of their game as well. It’s hard to fault any of the individual pieces of A Most Wanted Man, even though its slowly unwinding story can test one’s patience.