Stephen Earnest’s review published on Letterboxd:
Christ, John le Carré, we get it. Spydom is much, much less riveting in real life than it is in the movies. Thanks for continuing to hammer in that point.
Alright, so I’m an idiot—and an unfair idiot at that—because le Carré is obviously a brilliant writer; I’m just not brave or patient enough to try and read one of his novels. On the other hand, I have seen four or five filmic adaptations of his work, and they’ve all played—or downplayed—like the exact antithesis of something like Spy Game or James Bond.
A Most Wanted Man is what you’d expect: a spy… doing his job. He chain-smokes, he drinks his coffee, he speaks in a hushed tone, he looks over a file or two, he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, try as he must, gives the role his all—as he was always one to do, God Bless the man—but he comes off just as underwhelming as the rest of the film—and the rest of the performances, which are just a bunch of faltering accents. Barely anything of interest transpires over the two hour running time—or maybe, because of the film’s detached, completely reserved nature, I just couldn't tell when something of interest did happen. Boredom is subjective, because there are undoubtedly many people out there who enjoy this kind of stuff. But so many yawns, man. So many yawns.
The conclusion packs the only real emotional punch in the film, yet it doesn't feel like a satisfying payoff due to the preceding lackluster action. I think that—in theory—the idea of deconstructing cinema’s image of the spy, showing us the mundanity of their lives and how little control they actually have over any given situation, is interesting, but one that is better left to the pages, where we’re more likely to be drawn into the character and the consequences of his job because books are entirely different medium. On the screen, it’s just an endurance test.