This will not be the actual last Philip Seymour Hoffman film released after his sad, premature death; two installments of the Hunger Games movies are yet to be released. People might prefer this as his last stand, though, since the role includes an air of tragic fate that seems stamped on his features in the same way that every Kurt Cobain song seemed to be about guns. Here, Hoffman drinks and smokes in nearly every scene and at every hour of the day. When he meets a CIA agent (Robin Wright) for coffee in swank surroundings, he pulls out a flask and brims his cup. In the movie’s most emblematic mute scene, Hoffman as Günther Bachmann wakes in bed, lights a cigarette, and turns toward the wall. This character takes its place alongside Alec Leamas and other John le Carré men, doomed by the ironies of espionage, by life underground. He’s compromised and hell-bent to try to do right until the system sweeps everybody aside.
The film is good, but nowhere near as stylishly good as Corbijn’s earlier films Control or The American. It’s not as intricately fashioned as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy — or for that matter, as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold 49 years ago. In some ways, it more resembles a good episode of television’s The Wire — a bad guy who heads an evil conspiracy is detected, followed by a melodramatic tussle within enforcing agencies, and then the electronic bug. The rest is the ambiguity of power.
Hoffman is a shining star here, elevating the film. But he’s not the only one. All the women in the movie are terrific, including Wright, Nina Hoss, and Rachel McAdams. Each builds impressively through the movie and deftly swerves from cold heart to tiny acts of kindness. But, of course, it is Hoffman everybody wants to see more of, a most wanted man who never can surprise us anymore.