July 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: Hoffman embraces tension in spy thriller 'Most Wanted Man'

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a spymaster in 'A Most Wanted Man.' (Roadside Attractions)

An effective mix of modern-world paranoia, cold-blooded betrayal and political chess, “A Most Wanted Man” also serves as a fine final note to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acting career.

And make no mistake, this movie is all about Hoffman. As German spymaster Gunther Bachman, he is the man wrangling personalities and turning tables while on a constant, internal slow boil.

Bachman works in Hamburg, running a secret group that monitors potential terrorists. When a half-Chechen, half-Russian refugee named Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) sneaks into the city’s Islamic neighborhood, Bachman’s bosses immediately want to arrest him as a terrorist. But Bachman wants to wait and see.

What he sees is that an immigrant aid lawyer (Rachel McAdams) befriends Karpov. Soon she is hiding him while trying to prove to a corrupt banker (Willem Dafoe) that he is the son of a deceased, wealthy client.

That wealth inspires Bachman to try and use Karpov to trip up some terrorist financing. Helping him to convince his bosses to go along with his intricate plan is a U.S. spy (Robin Wright).

Director Anton Corbijn and screenwriter Andrew Bovell do a nice job capturing the tense tones of a John Le Carre novel, letting all the complications fall clearly into place while still keeping every key character as uncomfortable as possible. This is a world where no one can be sure what’s going on, so no one can be trusted.

And yet Bachman marches on — what else can he do? Hoffman brings a balance of fierce obsession and weary resignation to the role, and ends on a howling note that’s so deeply human it brings shivers. Hoffman didn’t play characters, he became characters, and the damage here feels both awful and real.

'A Most Wanted Man'

GRADE: B+

Rated R for language

Running time: 121 minutes

tlong@detroitnews.com
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