Philip Seymour Hoffman: talented, quirky, impossible to pigeon-hole. And so it goes that one of his final roles did not conform to the intense indie-spirited actor's reputation. In director Anton Corbijn's moody spy thriller "A Most Wanted Man," we get a very different Hoffman — speaking with a foreign accent in a leading role.
Based on the 2008 novel by espionage maestro John le Carré ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"), "A Most Wanted Man" centers on Gunter Bachmann (Hoffman), a German intelligence operative stationed in Hamburg, the German port city where Mohammed Atta and his collaborators planned the 9/11 attacks. Bachmann's latest "assignment" is Dr. Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), a Muslim academic who's been backing terrorist activity via donations to a Cyprus-based shipping company. Bachmann conjures a convoluted and dangerous trap for his target with the help of a passionate young lawyer (Rachel McAdams), a cagey CIA agent (Robin Wright), and a shifty banker (Willem Dafoe).
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As with most le Carré yarns, the plot is intricate. However, Corbijn is more about the mood and atmosphere — as he was in 2010's "The American" starring George Clooney — as Hoffman plays this spy game with a slow burn. After getting past his German accent, you're soon entranced by the subtle nuances of his rare leading man performance, which won raves when he premiered the film at the Sundance Film Festival weeks before his death.
"Hoffman brings a superbly world-weary quality to the role of Bachmann, whose subtle methods are predicated on a deep understanding of human complexity and the reality that no one is either fully good or fully evil — an insight that makes for good detective work, and good drama as well," wrote Justin Chang at Variety.
Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter is a fan as well. "Employing an often unemphatic voice and a fine German accent, Hoffman looks to relish this role but doesn't showboat in an engaging performance that stands as the central point of interest in film set in a shades-of-gray world."
Kate Erbland at Film.com agrees. "Hoffman is uniquely adept at making both big moments (literal screaming in the streets) and smaller bits (a stray smile here, a tossed off comment there) count in equal measure," she wrote in her review. "This is the kind of performance that Hoffman can do in his sleep, but the actor never makes it seem as if he's given less than his all, a nifty trick that few other working actors can pull off so well."
Audiences will still have a few more chances to enjoy Hoffman and his "nifty trick." Aside from "A Most Wanted Man," which will hit theaters on July 25, there are "God's Pocket" slated for a May 9 released and "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1" due out Nov. 21.