It’s a mostly low-key performance by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in a starring role as a German old school spy , based on the 2008 book by 50-year spy-master John Le Carre’. Poignantly, the Oscar-winning Hoffman gives one of his finest performances in this, his last finished film. It’s a haunting performance, echoing his last days , but the excesses here are work and booze.
At the heart of the story is a tortured half- Chechen, half-Russian who slips into Hamburg to claim his late dad’s fortune. Is he an oppressed victim or a dangerous terrorist? Le Carre keeps us guessing til the end. Like Le Carre’s other films, this is the thinking person’s spy movie, with almost no action til the final, explosive, heartbreaking climax . By the way, look for the author in a blink-and-you’ll-miss it barroom scene.
While the pacing of the 2-hour film may be slow for some, Hoffman’s performance is spellbinding. He totally embodies the German spy at war with other spy agencies. A distractingly black-haired Robin Wright plays a CIA agent. Like Hoffman, Rachel McAdams masters a German accent as a naïve lawyer fighting for asylum for the Chechen-Russian (who is played by A Russian actor who does it all with his eyes). Willem Dafoe, for once not the bad dude, is the German banker who has to decide if the i.d.-less young man can truly claim the massive inheritance.
This post- 911 spy thriller is totally believable , raising important prescient questions. It’s a smart, gritty, tense and ultimately emotional film. It’s one of my favorites of the year.