There are three reasons we kicked off our year of movie watching with this slow burn of a thriller. One, we loved Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy* which is also based on a John Le Carré novel. Two, we love Phillip Seymour Hoffman (a genius, so sadly gone too soon). Three, it's generally been well received (88% on Rotten Tomatoes).
Set in Hamburg in the shadow of September 11, A Most Wanted Man takes a pretty bleak look at the war on terror. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays Gunther Bachmann, a chain smoking German espionage agent. When a half Chechen / half Russian immigrant arrives in the port city, Hoffman's team and US security agencies are on alert. Is this new arrival an innocent victim escaping torture? Or is he an extremist militant, plotting to fund terrorism?
This film isn't Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but it is compelling. Largely because of Hoffman who is brilliant playing Bachmann - flawed, ailing, but still a powerful force. As Demetrios Matheou writes, "Hoffman manages to create a man of iron resolve, who nevertheless carries the vulnerability of knowing that he has failed before." It is a bittersweet thing indeed watching his final performance.
Like any good spy movie there's twists and turns here, but they unfold slowly, quietly. Still, it isn't a relaxing movie to watch. Even when there's not a lot happening there is plenty of tension and an overwhelming sense that things are going to end very, very badly. Which they do, of course. The ending is a punch in the guts. The good guys can't win, the system is a mess. There is no honour, no hero, no saving the day.
Cue something cute and fun and happy to watch immediately after this, otherwise you may find yourself wallowing in a murky pit of despair. You have been warned.
*If you haven't watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy put it on your list now. It's brilliant in so many ways and stands up to multiple viewings.
Twelve months, twelve movies. Simple.