A while back I mentioned that I saw God's Pocket, a lousy movie directed by Roger Sterling that I thought was Philip Seymour Hoffman's last starring role (he's due to appear in a couple of Hunger Games movies next year). As it turns out, that was wrong, as he also starred in A Most Wanted Man (based on a John Le Carre novel). I saw it tonight, and, so as not to give away much about the movie (it's a spy thriller, after all), I'll just say if you're into that sort of thing, it's well worth watching.

Mild spoilers

I'm not going to go into the storyline, because I can't think of how to do that without giving too much away, but Hoffman plays the head of a secretive anti-terrorist team in Hamburg who is alerted to the presence of a relatively unknown Chechen who turns up in the city. Gunther Bachmann (Hoffman's character) is, in some ways, an unconventional operative—he and his team are not the types to ship suspects off to Guantanamo or some black site for "enhanced interrogation," preferring to establish a level of trust with suspects to try to build bigger cases. That doesn't mean that he's a civil libertarian, or even an ethical person; he's more of an amoral pragmatist.

The movie is like that, too—even though Bachmann's approach seems less horrific than the kind of counterterrorism that is usually portrayed (and celebrated, in a lot of cases) in movies and TV, it's still coercive, and the best that can be said for it is that it might be more effective, even if it's almost as unethical.

I think there's a lot more to talk about the movie in terms of ethics, "truth value," etc., but it's hard to do that without giving it away. So just go see it. It's a heck of a movie.

The saddest part, of course, is that it's the last we'll see of Hoffman in a starring role. He turns in an excellent performance as Bachmann, who sees himself as performing both a service to his country and serving as an alternative to the broadsword-style of espionage favored by the CIA and other organizations. Whether or not that's actually true is another matter. Given the circumstances of his later years and death, it's also depressingly prescient to watch him play a character who seems to be in the slow process of letting himself go (I'm thinking back after just a couple of hours, and I can't think of a scene that doesn't show Bachmann drinking and/or smoking heavily) while trying to keep things together professionally.