He’s pasty-faced, overweight, miserable and existing on a diet of booze. Watching Philip Seymour Hoffman play Günther Bachmann, a German intelligence agent at the heart of this John le Carré adaptation, it’s hard to banish thoughts about the tragic death of the actor. Not least because they’re more intriguing than anything on screen in this disappointing plod of an espionage thriller.
Since the 9/11 plot was hatched in the north German port of Hamburg, it’s become a magnet for undesirables. Hoffman’s surveillance unit finds itself caught between the conflicting agendas of German police and US intelligence when the arrival of a suspicious Chechen refugee leads to dispute: should the man be arrested now or monitored to uncover his terror connections? Given the deadly stakes, this should be gripping, but the film gets sucked into academic plot details, trudging through each rendezvous and stakeout.
Director Anton ‘Control’ Corbijn’s buffed visuals deliver architectural sheen and backstreet sleaze on cue. But the credibility-sapping English-language dialogue (and Hoffman’s bad-tempered performance, growling like a Scandinavian Richard Burton) sits uneasily with the authenticity. It’s all unexpectedly uninvolving.