Year Released: 2014
Directed by: Anton Corbijn
Starring: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Robin Wright
(R, 121 min.)
Genre: Mystery and Suspense, Drama
“Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes” –John le Carré
Despite its technical artistry, the lauded final performance by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as well as screenwriting lineage tracing back to thoroughbred spymaster John le Carré, this film limps to the finish line.
Or as another critic says, "The movie itself is a well-acted, slow-burn espionage thriller, a slow burn that will fizzle a little towards the end and then just stop."
The storyline itself is just a little too much like insider baseball. Warring espionage agencies maneuver over how and when to take down the so-called wanted man, the badly tortured Issa karpov, (Grigoriy Dobrygin) a half Russian, half Chechen who has entered Germany illegally. Is he “an oppressed victim or destruction-bent extremist?” We watch the various spymasters feint and fence, but we never become fully engaged emotionally.
Like most of Le Carré’s work, the plot is complex, more suited for long novels than a single screening.
Perhaps Tom Clift, a freelance film journalist from Melbourne, Australia, who like Different Drummer, is somewhat underwhelmed by the film, sums up the plot best:
Hoffman plays Gunter Bachmann, a hardened senior intelligence agent with the German secret service. Specifically, Bachmann works for an unofficial anti-terror unit that develops informants within the Islamic community in Hamburg.
His team's latest target is a Chechen refugee named Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), who arrives covertly in the city to claim an inheritance worth tens of millions of Euros. Bachmann wants to use the fortune to help lure in bigger targets. Complicating matters, however, is the involvement of passionate human rights lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), who takes the traumatised Karpov under her protection.
The slow burn of the plot – clipped conversations in cars, interrogation rooms, and along the grey, dark streets of Hamburg – slow as it might seem, still does not allow for the core speech by Hoffman’s character, Gunter Bachman. The 4 page diatribe affectionately called "Bachman’s Cantata" never even made it to film. It is a bitter rant not unlike that from another le Carre novel, the memorable The Spy Who came in from the Cold. In the omitted “cantata” it is not a disillusioned spy but Hamburg, the German city that hatched Mohammed Atta and the other 9/11 crew, that is the focus of Bachman’s contempt.
Hamburg, the setting of the film and of the Bachman’s special unit now authorized to nip such terrorist planning in the bud, is not high in Bachman’s book, “…a guilty city making amends for its past sins — parading its inexhaustible, amazing, indiscriminate tolerance — well, that’s a signal of a kind too. It’s practically an invitation to come test us out.”
That inclusion in the film would have helped at least this filmgoer tolerate Bachman’s criticism’s of America’s past interrogation methods without having an involuntary flashback to that country’s past tolerance of its Nazi atrocities.
As to the brilliance of Hoffman’s performance, Different Drummer is also not alone in wondering how much of the memorable the performance was acting and how much propelled by Hoffman’s inner demons. In his dissolute appearance and air of resignation we see actor and his role coalesce.
David Thompson also wonders.
Is this great acting or his own despair? Was it by professional chance that the workaholic Hoffman found himself cast as so many suicidal characters, or was there a gravitational pull in his presence—the fatigue with which he lets his terrible stomach appear on screen, the fidelity with which his unsmiling hangdog air waits to be punished—that was insistent in film after film? Is that “casting,” or is it his depressed being taking charge of one project after another?
A lot of the time, here, you can hear Hoffman breathing: That's fine sound, but it's his tenuous existence, too. He was caught up in an inescapable experiment with entropic energy—the opposite of vitality and something seldom allowed in movies. –David Thompson
Certainly go see this film. You may also swoon over Hoffman, whose air of incipient defeat is at least a perfect fit for his character if not his final days. The works of John le Carré are eminently engrossing even when they fail to move us.
Given Gunther Bachman’s predilection for drinking, his mornings must begin with a strong coffee. But a little “hair of the dog’ might be necessary for such a drinker. You might also like a little of this fabulous Hamburg dessert to go along with it.
This German Coffee called Parisees Coffee with Rum, has a most interesting history:
This drink was invented for a christening of a baby girl, Johanna Theodora Katharina, on Nordstrand Island on the 29th of February, 1872. Pastor Gustav Beyer was very strict and always berating his flock their for godless drinking. In order to avoid his wrath, the congregation served a drink made with rum and coffee. The whipped cream on top kept the rum aroma from wafting through the air and upsetting the pastor, who received plain coffee with whipped cream. However, at some point, the good man got a whiff of what was going on behind his back and cried out, "Ihr Pharisäer!" or "You Pharisees!" referring to the sect which heckled Jesus in the Temple.
German Coffee with Rum
- Sugar cubes
- Whipped cream
- 1 jigger dark, Jamaican rum (about 40 ml, 1 1/2 oz.)
- Whipped cream
This coffee drink is traditionally served in a large glass tumbler with a saucer made for this drink. If you can't find this cup, use a coffee cup as in the photo.
Fill the cup with coffee, sweeten to taste with the sugar cubes, then add the rum. Place whipped cream on top and serve immediately.
Traditionally, you are not supposed to stir this drink, but sip it through the whipped cream. If you stir it, you may be required to buy a round of drinks.