My wife, her mom, and I made a rare visit to a movie theater yesterday. The stars, I guess, must have been in perfect alignment . I did the usual groundwork, investigating the offerings at the local big-screen emporiums.
My first choice, Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight”, wasn’t available at the usual places. So it boiled down to either Rob Reiner’s take on a December romance (“And So It Goes”) or a spy drama based on John Le Carre’s “A Most Wanted Man”. Let me be honest. If the vote had been democratic, I wouldn’t be writing this review. But the ladies bowed to my wishes. And after a good meal at Cooper’s Hawk , we sat down with a smattering of others to enjoy the fare.
Why “A Most Wanted Man”? A week ago I found the paperback at Barnes & Noble, and like all serious browsers studied its cover. Hmm. The movie version’s coming out. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. Must have been one of his last roles. If not his last. A book worth reading. A movie worth seeing. Le Carre and Hoffman. Can’t miss, right?
And it doesn’t. I wouldn’t presume to say whether this is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s greatest performance. Such appraisals are above my pay grade. But Hoffman’s bravura portrayal of a low-level German intelligence official has to be seen to be believed. Here is an actor at the top of his form. He dominates the screen in every scene he is in. Riveting. Mesmerizing. He speaks volumes even when he drags on a cigarette or stares silently in thought. And his primal scream at the climax of the movie may have expressed for all who live in these turbulent, chaotic, and chilling times our own outrage and frustration.
The plot is complicated, involving a mysterious Chechen, tortured in Turkey, and arriving in Hamburg to claim his Russian father’s money. What follows is a convergence of intrigue, idealism, love, and betrayal. Enough to keep one on the edge of his seat. And in the backdrop, the fascinating and darkly haunting city of Hamburg, on the river Elbe. The cinematography captures the picturesque space and shapes of Germany’s second largest city and is unbelievably breathtaking in itself.
Hoffman passed away last February. He was 46 years of age. He was the greatest actor of his generation.