Philip Seymour Hoffman's final full performance before he died was as Günther Bachmann, a middle-age, German spy who is overweight, who smokes a lot and who plays the piano, as he does as he says, "make the world a safer place." Yet, he'd prefer to track financial connections and manipulate key players in a complicated form of human chess, whereas everyone else with whom he would potentially collaborate would rather just play checkers.
Based on the novel by John le Carré, this movie is in the same vein as other books by John le Carré that have been adapted into films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Constant Gardener. It's a spy movie, but it's anti-James Bond and anti-Ethan Hunt. There's no action, at least not in the typical blockbuster, over-the-top sense.
The only real thrills come from seeing what Hoffman's character will say or do next. It works because Hoffman's performance is so thrilling in itself. Writer-director Anton Corbijn doesn't need huge, action set pieces. All he needs is Hoffman sitting across from or standing over someone to be thrilling, menacing or exciting.
Hoffman is superb. I hope for a posthumous Academy Award nomination for his work here. He is so on point and he does carry the film, but it helps that he has great actors off which to bounce. Robin Wright (House of Cards) plays a U.S. ambassador who bumps heads with Günther. Willem Dafoe (Platoon and Shadow of the Vampire) plays Tommy Brue, a bank manager, and Rachel McAdams (The Notebook and Midnight in Paris) plays Annabel Richter, a lawyer. Günther has to squeeze both of Tommy and Annabel because they stand between him and the terrorists he wants to get.
The film is set in Hamburg, Germany, the second largest city in the northern part of that nation. Reportedly, Hamburg has become a hotbed for terrorism. Mohamed Atta who was the hijacker who crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, planned that attack in Hamburg and supposedly many remnants still remain. One such remnant who is possibly the titular character is Issa Karpov, played by Grigoriy Dobrygin. Another such remnant who could also be the titular character is Abdullah, played by Homayoun Ershadi (The Kite Runner and Zero Dark Thirty).
Annabel is actually Issa's lawyer. Issa inherited a large sum of money from his father who has been implicated in terrorism crimes. This leads intelligence agencies to suspect he's a terrorist too or that he could net them terrorists. Issa wants to separate himself from that suspicion and Annabel helps to protect him. While this is happening, a quasi-romance grows. It's reminiscent of the first season of Homeland, but it becomes its own thing and is very well-played. McAdams and Dobrygin have great chemistry.
It also perfectly builds to an ending with which I was supremely impressed. I've commented recently this year about movies that have had pretty fantastic final shots in terms of composition and emotion that the filmmaker leaves with the audience. Films like Stranger By the Lake and The Immigrant come to mind. Most endings to movies I like I feel are pretty good if not great, but it's rare that a final scene will truly knock me out. The one here does and I think Corbijn handles it so skillfully.
Five Stars out of Five. Rated R for language. Running Time: 2 hrs. and 2 mins.