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Review Round-Up: ‘A Most Wanted Man’ As a Showcase for the Late Philip Seymour Hoffman

Review Round-Up: 'A Most Wanted Man' As a Showcase for the Late Philip Seymour Hoffman

Five months later, we’re still reeling from the enormous loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman. The late actor had two films debut at Sundance this year just a few weeks before his death: John Slattery’s directorial debut “God’s Pocket” and the John le Carre adaptation “A Most Wanted Man.” The first saw limited release in May, and now Hoffman’s final non-“Hunger Games” film is making its way to theaters. 

Reviews for “A Most Wanted Man” at Sundance were mostly positive, but those just seeing the film now have a new appreciation for it. Hoffman’s work as Gunther Bachmann is being praised powerful without being showy, quiet and controlled, cold and mysterious but humane. Corbijn’s careful, precise direction and the supporting performances by Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright and Rachel McAdams have been praised elsewhere, but at this point “A Most Wanted Man” is a showcase for one of the greatest actors of the last quarter-century. Earlier reviews were published at Sundance, but here are just a few of the new ones.

“A Most Wanted Man” arrives in theaters July 25.

A Most Wanted Man
Criticwire Average: B

Jesse Cataldo, Slant Magazine

The film never gets totally beyond this familiar treatment of spy tropes, but it remains a riveting, handsomely crafted bit of pulp, a comparatively realist companion to the Bourne movies, for those viewers who prefer their intrigue free from flying fists and overwrought conspiracies. And while it’s unfortunate to see Hoffmann’s final leading role defined by such a stodgy bundle of tics, all united under a baffling quasi-Teutonic accent, the performance has its moments, peaking when two hours worth of pent-up frustration finally explode. It’s ultimately an impressive turn, always keeping in mind that Le Carré characters are less full-fledged human beings than living chess pieces, sacrificing any trace of individual identity to pursue some indistinct greater good. Read more.

Kirk Honeycutt, Honeycutt’s Hollywood

A secret shadow warrior, chain-smoking and overly fond of drink, Hoffman’s Gunter Bachmann takes all the clichés about the aging spy and makes them new again. No moment is the least boring or mechanical. Everything has its purpose in describing a man burnt by betrayal, hardened by experience yet strangely determined “to make the world a better place.” Read more.

Trevor Johnston, Time Out New York

As you’d expect, director Anton Corbijn’s buffed visuals deliver architectural sheen and backstreet sleaze on cue. But the credibility-sapping English-language dialogue (and Hoffman’s dyspeptic performance, growling like a Scandinavian Richard Burton) sits uneasily with the ostensible authenticity. It’s all unexpectedly uninvolving. Read more.

Jeff Labrecque, Entertainment Weekly

Aside from 1965’s “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” and 1979’s BBC miniseries “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” few [John le Carre adaptations] have been great. The latest, Anton Corbijn’s “A Most Wanted Man,” is a bit too subdued to change that track record. But it also crackles with a jigsaw-puzzle intelligence and features a superbly subtle lead performance from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who single-handedly gooses the post-9/11 procedural through some of its slower patches. Read more.

Matt Prigge, Metro

But there’s another reason the lack of characterization works. It means we have no one to trust. Every character is not just morally slippery; they’re borderline unknowable. We don’t trust Wright American agent, but she has a flirty quality that disarms us because it makes her briefly, maybe wrongly, seem human. We think we trust Hoffman’s Gunter, but we’re not sure what his angle is, and he surprises us halfway through by doing something that, at least initially, seems downright villainous. Read more.

Nathan Rabin, The Dissolve

Corbijn is a music-video veteran, but his direction is surprisingly understated and methodical, less concerned with individual images or standalone sequences than with closely watching his characters as they closely watch each other, often through surveillance equipment. Corbijn favors a desaturated color palette that makes Hamburg look like a grim industrial hellhole, which adds to the film’s feeling of bone-deep exhaustion, captured in Hoffman’s dryly witty performance as a man chasing one last shot at redemption with the knowledge that he’s almost assuredly doomed. Read more.

Alan Scherstuhl, The Village Voice

Philip Seymour Hoffman is an island of rumpled calm in Anton Corbijn’s urgent “A Most Wanted Man,” a glum-out-of-principle espionage story based on a John Le Carre novel. The role demands that Hoffman be quiet, steady, occasionally frustrated, and that he hold secrets — often from us, which is a bit of a shame. This is the last film that Hoffman completed, and other than a few humane flourishes — a bleat of anger, a playful wave to a video monitor showing a prisoner flipping him off — he’s a poker-faced riddle. It’s our job to wonder whether he’s a hero, a monster, or that intersection of Venn diagram where those possibilities overlap. Read more.

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