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A much missed man

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A Most Wanted Man (15, although there is no real reason why it isn’t PG)
Running time 122 minutes

Watching Philip Seymour Hoffman effortlessly create the shabby, dishevelled-but-brilliant spycatcher Gunther Bachman in A Most Wanted Man, you can only mourn the passing of a great talent.
Hoffman died a few months ago, shortly after completing work on the John le Carré adaptation, a victim of depression and various additions, a curse of the acting class.
Critics have praised his performance, largely because his version of a spymaster is so different from the usual slam-bang suavity of your average Bond.
Hoffman plays Bachman as a rumpled, cynical loner, deeply suspicious – with good cause as it turned out – of both his own bosses and the ever-present CIA.
Bachman runs a small, shady unit of Islam-watchers in Hamburg – the city where the 9/11 plot was organised – when he picks up a bedraggled Chechen boy Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), covered in the marks of torture, who claims to be the son of a late Soviet military/ mafia boss.
The lad wants access to his father’s ill-gotten fortune, held in the vaults of an otherwise respectable British bank, so he can give it away, he says. This means using a Muslim leader whose credentials are tainted by suspicions that he siphons charity money into the hands of less well-meaning men.
The smell of money in the hands of a Muslim attracts the vultures of police, German security, (whose leaders would not have looked out of place in a different, blacker uniform) and the clean-cut and ruthless CIA, intent on making sure no-one ever even thinks of doing any harm to anything American anywhere ever again – for some an alternative form of extremism.
Bachman wants to make the world a safer place by using craft, subtlety, and commonsense, and so plays the game out with a light hand. The Germans use jackboots and the Americans just want to kill anyone not like them.
The le Carré novel, as with most of his stories since the days of George Smiley, is full of good men frustrated, bad men getting their way, and the whole world going to hell in a handcart.
A Most Wanted Man has been made by Channel 4 Films and directed by Anton Corbijn (who directed George Clooney in The American, a similar sort of tale).
There is a kind of tattered nobility about Bachman, played with admirable restraint and composure by Hoffman, so different from his award-winning role in Capote, a meaningful exercise in over-indulgence.
He is well supported by a solid crew behind him, including the ever-steady Rachel McAdams and Willem Dafoe, and the images of a Hamburg snivelling under the weight of its reputation as an easy town in which to get lost.
It’s a great film, one that makes you realise that the world can be a shabby and unhealthy place, and also how good an actor it takes to portray that dead zone that so many spies have in place of a soul.

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