Perhaps since I thought the spy movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was the most boring and overrated movie I had seen in a decade. I was equally disappointed with The American (starring George Clooney and directed by the same guy as this – Anton Corbijn)…I wasn’t so bummed I missed this movie at the press screening. Yet since it was the last performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, I was curious. I’m glad I finally caught it. Hoffman’s performance was my favorite of the year, and is easily one of the best roles he’s ever played. He’s Gunter Bachman, a brooding, weary German intelligence operative that, like his character in Charlie Wilson’s War – knows his stuff and really cares about the job. The character in this is the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of personality. Perhaps the only thing they have in common is the amount they chain-smoke (there wasn’t a single scene Hoffman didn’t have a cigarette in this). Both were also fond of the booze.
It’s after 9/11 and the Islamic community in Germany is being watched by different agencies. We learn that Bachmann was involved in a failed mission in Beirut. We also get a few of those usual clichés – he “needs more time.” He has allies that seem to be working against him and he doesn’t trust what they tell him.
We see Bachmann working with Muslim informants, and a lot of that is rather fascinating. When one of them wants to get out because he fears he’s being watched – we don’t feel that Bachmann is manipulating him as much as he probably is. So often in a scene like that, I just wonder why the person doesn’t run in the opposite direction. It’s one of the many things that ruined The Departed for me. There came a point where Leonardo DiCaprio would’ve just told them to piss off.
Since we’ve seen so many movies that go down similar paths, when Bachmann seems to key in on a prominent professor and philanthropist that may be channeling money into terrorist groups, we aren’t sure whether he’s going to be completely wrong or we’re going to see a scene where this seemingly nice man is torturing somebody. As my date said half through the movie, “Isn’t spy s**t supposed to be more exciting?”
Well, sometimes. She was bored and disappointed by the film, whereas I was captivated. It felt like a movie that demanded your attention, and didn’t have to give you car chases. It deals slightly with some of the themes regarding what is right and wrong when it comes to detaining possible terrorists.
The plot thickens when a dangerous and mysterious man from Turkey arrives in Hamburg. He brings in a lawyer (Rachel McAdams) who helps out a lot of the terrorist. He has millions coming in from a father that died. That means a trip to a shady banker (Willem Dafeo).
There were some good supporting roles played by Daniel Bruhl (Rush) and Robin Wright, but this is really a tour de force for Hoffman.
The score was well-crafted by Herbert Groenemeyer, and we hear some nuggests by Roy Orbison and Phil Phillips in the smoky bars Bachmann would frequent.
If you go to see this, you should go into it thinking of it as an interesting character study. Sit back and enjoy, and be saddened, by the fact that we’ll never get to see an amazing performance like this from Hoffman again.
It gets 3 ½ stars out of 5.