Philip Seymour Hoffman died on February 2, 2014 from acute mixed drug intoxication. He was found in his New York apartment with a needle in his arm. He was 46 years old, one of America’s most ambitious and widely admired actors. He left three children under the age of 10, his female partner and a $35 million fortune.
He had trouble with drugs and alcohol when he was in college. At the age of 22, he quit and remained sober for 23 years. Then in 2012 at a party, Hoffman accepted an alcoholic beverage to celebrate the completion of the film The Master. This one drink resulted in a relapse, and he started using prescription medications soon afterwards.
The turning point in his career came in 2005, when he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for Capote.
It was tough to watch Hoffman, who so recently suffered this tragic death, in A Most Wanted Man, a thriller based on John le Carré’s novel by the same name. Hoffman plays a German intelligence officer, a chain-smoking, whiskey drinking spy who is, according to his own words, “trying to make the world a safer place” by hunting down terrorists before they can strike.
The story plays in Hamburg, the city where Mohammad Atta planned the attacks of 9/11. After the Germans realized that many of the world’s terror plots are being hatched in their country, they committed resources and intelligence staff to preempt the terror. To make it possible within the German constitution, the intelligence units operate as dark units. Nobody knows them, nobody knows they exist and they do pretty much what they like, outside of the law – sort of like the NSA in the United States.
The story starts when Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a 26-year-old half-Chechen, half-Russian Muslim shows up in Hamburg, wearing a large Taliban-looking beard, ragged clothes and a hoodie. With nothing to his name but what is in his backpack, he connects with the local Islamic community. He shows the marks of brutal torture and starts searching for a prominent banker, presumably to obtain his father’s fortune left to him legitimately.
Gunter Bachman (Philip Seymour Hoffmann), the intelligence agent, quickly notices his presence in town and surveillance starts. But the German police also notice Karpov and want to arrest him. Bachman wants to pursue Karpov as a critical link to the real terrorists and their money flow, and arresting him would kill the lead. To make matters worse, the United States sends agents after him, too. Nobody knows if Karpov is an innocent Muslim and oppressed victim, or a terrorist. Things get complicated very quickly.
Karpov is definitely a most wanted man.
Hoffman delivers a remarkable performance portraying a German intelligence officer, even though everyone in the movie speaks English. They make the Germans have accents to give them authenticity. That’s a little strange for a German speaker like me to overlook. But I got used to that thematic technique quickly. I guess they can speak English in Hamburg.
Overall, this is an entertaining thriller to watch, albeit a bit eerie, knowing that Hoffman died so recently and shortly after finishing this film.
Rating: *** (out of 4)