Much-loved character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's sudden death due to a heroin overdose back in February this year was a shock, one of those things that no one saw coming. But look hard at his final performance in "A Most Wanted Man" and behind the role you can see it in his eyes — that funk, that despair, that whatever-it-was that drove him back off the wagon and onto the needle. It's a desperate performance in a mostly well-mannered film.

"A Most Wanted Man" is based on a novel by John le Carre in which the author updated his trademark Cold War espionage tropes to the war on terror. It's a sleek, cerebral spy story, art-directed to death by Anton Corbijn, who is settling into slow-burn thrillers after the post-punk intensity of his Ian Curtis/Joy Division biopic "Control." (And cinematographer Benoit Delhomme turns in some of his best work since the films he shot in the 1990s such as "Cyclo" and "The Scent of Green Papaya.")

Hoffman plays a shambling but driven German intelligence agent, Gunther Bachmann, in charge of an off-the-books anti-terror squad in Hamburg, the city that harbored Mohamed Atta and many of the 9/11 plotters. He's on the trail of a suspected Chechen radical, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), who has snuck into Germany and is seeking assistance from human-rights attorney Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams). Is Issa a legitimate asylum-seeker or a potential suicide bomber? Tension rises between Bachmann, who wishes to follow his prey deeper to trace the links, and his unsubtle rivals in German intelligence and the CIA, who'd prefer a quick takedown. Nobody's motives are entirely clear, and the film focuses on matters of trust and betrayal more than gunplay and chases.