Friday, 30 January 2015

Alternate Best Actor 2014: Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man

Philip Seymour Hoffman did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Günther Bachmann in A Most Wanted Man.

A Most Wanted Man is an effective spy thriller about a small anti-terror unit in Germany attempting to track down a possibly suspicious Chechen Muslim who recently illegally immigrated into Hamburg.

A Most Wanted Man is based on a book by John Le Carré well known for his stories set in the dark world of international espionage. His best known character is perhaps the master spy of the cold war George Smiley who was played most recently by Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Günther Bachmann is in a similar vein although Bachmann works for German intelligence, and must deal with a different enemy, Islamic terrorists, who are maybe more visible yet perhaps even trickier than the Soviets dealt with by George Smiley. Philip Seymour Hoffman gives his final leading performance here in a role that that presents an interesting challenge right from the start. A Most Wanted Man is a film where all actors speak English in a foreign country, although it's notable in that besides Willem Dafoe, Rachel McAdams, and Hoffman the actors are the nationalities of the characters they are portraying. This presents something of a problem as right next to the real deal a false accent could be particularly noticeable. Well Dafoe stumbles a little bit although his accent seems like perfection compared to McAdams's constantly wavering work, but what about Hoffman?

Hoffman's accent work is terrific to say the least as he not only naturally even when he shares so many scenes with authentic Germans such as Daniel Brühl and Nina Hoss. Hoffman does not at all falter in this regard, but the accent Hoffman uses also is quite impressive. It's distinctive in just the right way as he makes Bachmann standout, and successfully makes you wholly believe that he is this long time operator. Hoffman amplifies this through his manner with his slouching posture and whole tired demeanor. Hoffman establishes Bachmann well as a man who's been through a great deal, and there is almost an innate exhaustion in him. Hoffman does not suggest this as Bachmann being lazy or bored towards his current job, but rather he effectively shows the way that Bachmann very much remembers his defeat not long ago that was caused by C.I.A. interference. Hoffman never needs a moment to actually have Bachmann cry out over that which sent him over to Hamburg to begin with, which some wrongly blame him for, because Hoffman so well exudes that history in his very being.

Bachmann though currently works with his small crew on a very particular and interesting method of dealing with the terrorist threat. Bachmann is not going around taking down potential targets, but rather takes a whole different method. This is first scene when he deals with a banker (Dafoe) who the most wanted man seeks to extract a fortune from due to an old account. Bachmann having information that proves the banker's father was corrupt and made problematic dealings with the mob confronts the man. Hoffman is outstanding in the scene as he casually lays down the threat of potentially releasing the information, but with just as much ease states as his position that he would rather have the man help him than have to turn him in. Hoffman is terrific in realizing this method in his performance because he does carry a certain menace in method, yet has such a delicate handle of it that it would be hard to turn down Bachmann's offer. The way Bachmann turns the man to his thinking, and proceeds to use him as an agent for the rest of the film is made absolutely believable through Hoffman's brilliant portrayal of it.

All the while though Bachmann has to deal with other men in his government as well as a C.I.A "observer" who want to expedite the process, but also just desires to take a harsher approach that likely has fewer gains for the future. Hoffman is great in portraying Bachmann's dealings with these people as he shows Bachmann as always somewhat defensive, as though he is keeping his full intentions close to chest to prevent them from mucking them up, and Hoffman also creates a well earned air confidence around Bachmann. Bachmann is indeed shown to always be the smartest man in any given room, and does seem to know this himself. Hoffman presents this though without a bit of smugness or self-righteousness making it simply a fact. Hoffman portrays Bachmann as well knowing in the game and conveys well the intelligence as Bachmann as he always seems to be analyzing the actions of those around him. He's particularly good in the scenes with the operative played by Robin Wright, as Hoffman shows Bachmann always looking past her words to see what it is that she really is aiming at, well he also tries to get her to do a few favors for him.

Another quality that makes Hoffman's performance stand out though is that he does not play Bachmann as detached even though he certainly is well aware of the darkness his world entails. One moment I particularly love is when he is getting the most wanted man's lawyer played by McAdams, and she tries to push him around. Hoffman is terrific by bringing such a sharp attack as he strikes her down calling her nothing more than a social worker for terrorists, and Hoffman in the moment shows that there is a strong passion in Bachmann for his cause. Hoffman never makes it some sort of numbers games or merely a list of people he needs to take down for Bachmann, unlike the way his colleagues treat the situation. One great scene for Hoffman is one he speaking to one of his informants who wants out of it all. Hoffman brings a surprising amount of tenderness and warmth though as Bachmann states that he never forced anything upon the man. Whether that is truly the case or not, Hoffman is really good in showing that Bachmann has considerable empathy for those he uses, and none of them are simply there for his personal disposal.

Philip Seymour Hoffman does wonderful work here as Günther Bachmann because he not only so effectively presents the unique manner in which Bachmann goes about his job, but he also makes him a hero we want to see succeed in his task. Hoffman although makes you invested in the plot he also let's become invested in Bachmann as well. The end of the film is another terrible defeat for Bachmann and it is soul crushing to witness. Hoffman is fantastic in the scene in portraying the anger and frustration of Bachmann as he sees his well orchestrated plans crumble due to the callousness of others. I will say the final image of the film is heartbreaking as we see Bachmann quietly walk away from the scene alone leaving his car empty, although I do think this is possibly even more devastating than even intended, well for me personally anyways, as the scene also depicts the very last time we will ever see Philip Seymour Hoffman lead a film. It is troubling to have to note that because his work here is one final sad reminder of his considerable talent, but at the very least it is a worthy sendoff for such a great actor.


mcofra7 said...

What are your top 5 performances from Hoffman?

Matt Mustin said...

I really didn't care for this film that much at all. Having said that, I don't have any complaints about Hoffman's performance. I think he's terrific, and it's unbearably sad that such an incredible actor has left us so tragically early.

Matt Mustin said...

Regarding the top five Hoffman performances, obviously exclude performances that might be reviewed in the future.

Psifonian said...

I really do miss the fat son-of-a-bitch. The world just ain't the same without him.

Anonymous said...

I didn't care much for the movie... It's quite good but it was kinda boring at some points. Hoffman was great though, although probably a 4.5 for me and not a 5. I thought that McAdams was fine and Dafoe was okay I guess although he didn't have much of a role. Robin Wright was not good at all though, she just was way too obvious in her whole perf.

luke higham said...

Excellent Film, Amazing Performance, I'm still feeling quite heartbroken, that he's no longer with us.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

God I miss him. We're coming up on a year since he passed.

Louis Morgan said...


1. The Master
2. A Most Wanted Man
3. Along Came Polley
4. Capote
5. Magnolia