It was eerie staring at Philip Seymour Hoffman in his new film, “A Most Wanted Man.” It was as if he had come back to show us he wasn’t finished yet. He looked bloated. His skin seemed to lack elasticity — when something pressed against him and caused the skin to indent, it didn’t spring back in normal time.
Hoffman plays intelligence operative Gunther Bachmann, a man saddened by how ineffective he feels in his position at a covert anti-terrorism unit in Hamburg, Germany. It takes place in real time. More than a decade has passed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Hamburg, where the bombers lived and plotted, remains on high alert. As Hoffman’s character Bachmann downs whiskey and chain smokes, it’s painful to watch knowing that Hoffman, too, destroyed himself with vices. The sadness, however, is greatly outweighed by the thrill of the actor’s ability to nail a role. This is another Oscar-worthy performance.
The film is brilliant and realistic, and thanks goes to director Anton Corbijn and the strong material everyone had to work with. The film was based on the bestselling novel by John le Carré. Andrew Bovell (“Edge of Darkness”) adapted the book into a riveting screenplay. But above all else, this is Hoffman’s movie.
Hoffman plays a complex yet sympathetic protagonist who believes his methods justify the means. All of the characters seem to believe in their missions, even when they’re “forced” to behave cruelly.
The story revolves around Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a half-Chechen, half-Russian, brutally tortured 26-year-old man who is spotted in Hamburg’s Islamic community. He has been classified by Interpol as an escaped militant jihadist who has come to Hamburg to claim his father’s ill-gotten fortune.
The top-tier cast includes Willem Dafoe as banker Tommy Brue who holds a key to that fortune, Rachel McAdams as Annabel Richter, an idealistic human rights lawyer who takes on the job of protecting Karpov, and Robin Wright as Martha Sullivan, a high-ranking CIA spy that Bachmann doesn’t trust but is forced to work with.
I was seated when Dutch director Corbijn entered the interview room. He seemed a tall, thin tree that could easily be snapped by a harsh wind. We met on Tuesday, July 22, only a few days after the Malaysian Airlines jet crashed and killed so many passengers from The Netherlands. Also, he confided that he’d been traveling from country to country for two weeks talking about the movie.
When we began our interview, I asked him if there were signs that anything was wrong with Hoffman during their time together.
“Was he trying to tell me something from behind the scenes? That’s hard to tell,” he replied. “I feel that he was struggling with some issues. I’ve worked with artists all my life, and we’re not all that balanced. We all fight with the talents we have. But he was an artist and gave an incredible performance.”
When asked which scene was his favorite, Corbijn said, “I really liked the holding cell. I loved how Philip just sits there smoking. I’m not the guy who does a lot of fast cutting. I just held the camera on Philip that whole length of time where he is sitting with Rachel. I liked that a lot. I also liked Philip on the ferry with all of the seagulls. I only did one take of it and never cut any of it.”
I mentioned my enjoyment of how consistent and realistic the accents were. Corbijn said, “I brought Philip and Rachel voice coaches because I wanted them to sound like Germans who speak English. They’re not American. Willem as Tommy Brue was the son of an Austrian and Scottish marriage, so he spoke with less-clear German. There are films where the main character first speaks in another language and then suddenly is speaking English. I find that very odd. So, this was a lot of work, and I spent months and months on that to get it right.”
And get it right he did.
“A Most Wanted Man” opens in select theaters Friday, July 24. Rated R. Thriller. 121 minutes.
Watch the trailer, and be sure to check out some of Hoffman’s final set photos here.
Dorri Olds is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.