Post-911 Germany is scrambling to make sure nobody uses their country for terrorist organization again. Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is one of the few “good” ones left in an intelligence unit largely corrupted by CIA, but his burnout is evident. When a young Russian-Chechen enters the country illegally, ostensibly looking for asylum, Bachmann decides to use the refugee to move up the ladder, hopefully toward a Muslim philanthropist who Bachmann believes is using charities as a front to fund extremist operations.
Hoffman looks terrible in this film, which kind of fits with the character, who’s a bloated wreck, but it’s still painful to watch. He’s good though, if you overlook his German accent occasionally sounding Irish. Rachel McAdams plays a lawyer trying to help the refugee Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) claim political asylum. Dobrygin plays tortured and traumatized very well but McAdams seems miscast and out of her depth.
This movie is interesting but seems to have tried to pack too much into one single movie, so it’s a bit hard to follow. It’s also the least thrilling espionage thriller I’ve seen in a long time. It’s not gripping because it gets bogged down in the details. And there’s no real heart. Who are we supposed to care about? The titular character, supposedly this Issa, is supposed to be mysterious. People are arguing over whether to arrest him now, or use him as bait to uncover his hidden motives, not just because he could lead them up the chain, but because they believe he himself may actually be a jihadist. The audience is meant to see him as a threat lying in wait, only he’s such a pathetic character that there is no real urgency, no real menace. In fact, the movie’s strongest sense of sinister undertone comes from conversations between Hoffman and Robin Wright, playing a CIA agent. The actors and director Anton Corbijn hint masterfully at malevolence.
It’s a mostly subtle film that makes you wonder how far is too far. How much should we infringe on someone’s rights in the name of “fighting terrorism”? This movie will leave you unsettled, with a bitter taste in your mouth, both for the frustrating geopolitical policy, and for Hoffman’s swan song, his last completed movie.