Man oh man, I really wanted to love this movie. Well, more than that I really expected to love it. Philip Seymour Hoffman as a John Le Carre spy operating outside the legal system in order to keep Germany safe? How could I not love this movie? Well, mainly by it being horribly scripted, which it was, and dreadfully characterized, which it also was. There are just a lot of problems here. Hoffman’s character, Gunther, undergoes a very weird character change near the end of this movie and the movie seems to have no idea why. Rachel McAdams isn’t very good as a human rights lawyer; Jessica Chastain was up for the role and would have been perfect. And the character of the lawyer is inconsistent in the way she behaves; in one scene, she’s tough minded and brave while the next time we see her, she’s being wimpy and easily manipulated. Sometimes, she’s very cagey and smart; and then she’s wanted by the police for harboring a terrorist and she’s just biking around a park for exercise in broad daylight. Grigoriy Dobrigyn is pretty terrible as Issa, the Chechen Muslim that drives the first half of the story, and the script doesn’t seem to understand why he acts as he does, at one point attempting the maddening handwave of actually saying that his character makes no sense because he’s confused. Right. Or poorly written. You know, or that. The character of the moderate Muslim Cleric Abdullah is also frustrating – when he’s supposed to become the villain of the movie, we’ve only seen him for about five minutes and during the rest of the movie, he remains completely divorced from the villainous proceedings of his cronies, which, by the way, we don’t even see at all. This is no way to make a compelling villain; he’s completely uninteresting and we have essentially no interest at all in whether he’s brought to justice or not. The film has no narrative drive; it just rambles about slowly.
There are a very few good things. Robin Wright is good as an idealistic American diplomat and Willem Dafoe’s character, a German banker, is actually very well-written and Dafoe gives easily the best performance in the film, really making the character come to life, despite the fact that he’s only in about a third of the movie. As you might guess from all this stuff I’m throwing out there, a good reason almost none of the characters are explored in any but the most superficial ways is because there are way too many. In mini-series format, this story might have unfolded better, with more time to explore and deepen the characterizations. The score is good, tragic romance. And Hoffman is a pleasure, even if his character is confusing and poorly written. He finds a real perfect zone as the endearingly schlubby, morally troubling spymaster. But on the whole, I was very disappointed in this movie. I would strongly recommend against wasting your time on this one. Below Average. 1 ½ stars.