The first 15 minutes or so of this spy thriller will throw you into despair. The film is set in Hamburg, Germany, but the actors speak English with German accents. This is something we just don't do anymore. In the '80s, yes, it was allowed, but in our day and age, it's just not proper to break with language realism. If your film is set in South Korea, the actors must speak Korean; if in Mexico, they must speak Spanish. The despair one feels at the beginning of A Most Wanted Man is compounded by the fact that Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died back in February from a drug overdose, departs the art of cinema with this film—one of the greatest actors of our generation leaves us with a phony German accent. (Note: Hoffman is in the two yet-to-be-released Hunger Games movies, but they are not serious works of art.)
This will never work, you will think as this German-accent travesty unfurls on the screen. This is going to blow. But guess what? It doesn't. Wanted Man, which is directed by Anton Corbijn (The American, Control) and based on a John le Carré novel of the same name, turns out to be an excellent and engaging thriller. We mainly have, of course, Hoffman's performance to thank for this success; without his dogged heaviness, his heroic determination to give Günther Bachmann everything he has got, you wouldn't be able to forget all of those German accents.
The plot: A young and scrawny Chechen enters Hamburg illegally. He ends up on the streets of the global city. He is a Muslim. He wears a hood. He carries a dirty-looking bag. He seems up to no good. We expect him to eventually connect with a dormant cell, activate it, and coordinate an act of terror. A German intelligence agency, however, soon learns about this illegal Chechen and begins to follow him, hoping he will lead them to a bigger catch. Günther Bachmann runs this organization, which operates beneath the law. When the CIA and other intelligence agencies learn about the strange Chechen, they want a piece of the action, and they want it now. But Bachmann does not work that way; his thing is to do the job right and get the biggest fish possible. Terrorism must be pulled out by the roots.
Bachmann is overweight, dresses shabbily, drinks heavily, smokes nonstop, and lives alone. His whole life is his job, and the members of his team (four or so men and a woman) never challenge his decisions or doubt his commitment. They know that he is the best in the business. The team follows the Chechen, learns a couple of truths about him, and, just as Bachmann is about to catch the biggest prize ever and show all of his doubters that his slow methods produce the best results, a big surprise blindsides him. The last minute of this film will break your heart. Good-bye, Philip Seymour Hoffman.