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"A Most Wanted Man": A swansong spy thriller for a Hollywood great

A most vaunted man

Hoffman and one of those collages we're meant to believe movie characters make. Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions

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I'd like to talk about etiquette for a moment. Telling someone they look like a celebrity is only a compliment if the celebrity is conventionally attractive. No guy wants to hear they look like Steve Buscemi, Clint Howard or the decomposing pilot from Castaway. No woman wants to hear they look like Rhea Perlman, Rebel Wilson or that girl from Precious. So please people, it's just plain rude to tell me I look like Philip Seymour Hoffman - an overweight, balding man in his mid-40s - when I'm clearly an overweight, balding man in his early 30s.

He was one heck of an actor, though.

A Most Wanted Man is the latest from director Anton Corbijn, (The American, tons of music videos for Depeche Mode and Echo & the Bunnymen). Based on the novel of the same name by John le Carré, (The Constant Gardener, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), the film chronicles the exploits of Günter Bachmann (the late and much-lamented Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a secret anti-terrorism taskforce in Hamburg, Germany. Günter works too much and drinks too much, but he has an excellent excuse: Hamburg is where Islamic jihadist Mohammed Atta and his underlings orchestrated 9/11. Lingering guilt and the fear of seeing Hamburg affiliated with another world-changing terrorist attack has kept Bachmann and his associate Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock) on high alert for the past decade, but they disagree over each other's methods. Bachmann favors a slow, systematic approach of infiltrations, negotiations and espionage. Mohr would prefer to arrest any and every suspect, and determine the guilty parties once they're all in a holding cell.

The two men butt heads yet again when battered and disheveled Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) comes to town. Karpov - half Chechen, half Russian and a fugitive from both countries - is an alleged Muslim extremist and the heir apparent to a multimillion euro fortune held in a Hamburg bank; money that Bachmann and Mohr fear will be used to fund terrorism. Mohr wants to bring Karpov in before he can make contact with any of his cronies and money can change hands. Bachmann wants to sit back and see what develops, and then make the most strategically advantageous move.

In the end, both men just want to do whatever they can "to make the world a safer place".

This isn't Hoffman's final film. That honor goes to his role as Plutarch Heavensbee in the third and fourth films in the Hunger Games series, the first of which is due out later this year. I'm sure Hoffman brought the same level of talent to those movies as he did to the rest of his filmography, but I have every confidence that this is the film people will remember first when they think of his final roles.

Or at least they should.

A Most Wanted Man is a taut, tense spy thriller, a fitting swan song for Hoffman, and a poignant reminder of why he was a most wanted man in Tinseltown.

A MOST WANTED MAN, opens Friday, July 25, The Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $5-$9.50, 253.593.4474

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