In one of his last roles, Philip Seymour Hoffman leaves us with a shining example of his talent.
In A Most Wanted Man, Hoffman plays the head of a quasi-official, quasi-legal group of intelligence officers who watch radical Islamic movements in Hamburg. Hoffman excels in his role as Gunther, submerging himself in the character with a different voice.
Gunther and his team do the feet-on-the-ground agent work necessary to gather intelligence. Originally tracking a public figure who raises funds for Islamic charities, Gunter’s path crosses with a Chechen jihadist illegally in the city to legally gather funds that his dead father stored in a Hamburg bank years before.
While running his investigation, Gunther fights with police and others in German government over the strategy to take down the public figure who is funneling money to Islamic jihadist through charities.
Then the Americans show up, also wanting the guy who funds Islamic charities. Unlike Gunther, they aren’t thinking long-term. They don’t want to track the entire network and find the people behind this public figure. The Americans, like other German officials, see getting the public figure as an easy victory in the fight on terror. The public figure is the end game, not a lead to others.
Unsurprisingly, Gunther and the Americans have a history. He doesn’t trust them and rightfully so; the Americans were responsible for bringing down a case of his in Beirut, which led to him being “banished” to Hamburg.
The movie shows Gunther masterfully weaving together his plot to use to the Chechen jihadist (little fish) to get the public figure (a bigger fish) who will lead them to others (sharks). The plan is working flawlessly. But those with their eye on short-term gains rather than the final end goal win the day.
Rather than being dealt with in semi-humane manner by Gunter, the Chechen seeking asylum and the public figure who funnels charity money to jihadists disappear into the illegal network of torture and black prisons.
Hoffman is a delight to watch as is William Dafoe who appears as the Hamburg banker. A Most Wanted Man is an engaging thriller, leaving you wanting more—one of the better le Carré adaptations. RIP Hoffman.