PHILIP Seymour Hoffman’s final leading role in a movie before his untimely death earlier this year comes in an adaptation of a John Le Carre spy thriller. It’s set in Hamburg and Hoffman plays German intelligence operative Guenther Bachmann, a shambling hulk of a man who lives in the shadows. He’s in charge of a small anti-terrorist unit which has successfully infiltrated the Muslim community. This is no small undertaking as the terrorist cell which master minded the attacks on America in September 2001 operated out of Hamburg and many of the city’s Muslims are adept at undercover work.
Bachmann’s team are tracking a young mystery man. He’s Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a half-Russian half-Chechen, who’s ostensibly in Hamburg to claim a large sum of money left by his brutal father. The money is held in a bank run by Thomas Brue (Willem Dafoe), an establishment figure who’s known to have fiddled a few accounts in his time. Bachmann and his crew want Issa to succeed. They believe he’ll lead them to the leaders of the arms-smuggling and terrorist groups they’ve set out to crack. But there’s two internal hurdles in their way.
The German Interior Ministry bureaucrats not to mention the head of the CIA unit in town Martha (Robyn Wright) have other ideas. Bachmann doesn’t completely trust Martha, but he’s prepared to deal more closely with her than with his own interfering countrymen. And true to Le Carre’s plot, there’s another person to handle.
Having seen Issa’s scars from his torture at the hands of Russian captors, human rights lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) is determined to make sure Issa is given a fair go. She hides him in an apartment her unsuspecting brother is renovating after Issa had first been taken in by a local Muslim family.
It all leads to a conclusion which I didn’t see coming. Director Anton Corbijn has shot the film in steely blue tones, with a lot of scenes set among the city’s waterfront and shipyards. Importantly, Australian Andrew Bovell wrote the screenplay.