A tale as hard and unjust as Willem DeFoe’s facial structure, which we have the pleasure of watching tense and un-tense repeatedly through the film. A cold, stifled style delivers this fragile story through which danger silently echoes; a style broken, only appropriately, in its blundering and disastrous climax.
It’s a predictable situation. We are in awe of cagey, detached maverick Günther (Philip Seymour Hoffman); he had a rough time in Berlin, as his seniors never let him forget. We are hopeful for the naive, do-gooder lawyer Annabel (Rachel McAdams) and her haunted, honest client Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), whose troublesome past threatens to jeopardise his chance of a clean slate.
In exploring the very relevant subject matter we get a sense of the complexity of the web we call terrorism, or perhaps more a sense of how badly the web is being navigated. As to who is navigating it poorly – the terrorists or “counter-terrorists” if I may coin a phrase – is a matter of opinion, which is where conversations can get interesting.
As per usual with this kind of subject material, we never have the person at the top of the chain – the one responsible for the evil injustices – appearing onscreen, leaving you with that grossly uncomfortable, pent up frustration which comes from having no one to persecute. This in itself relates directly to the Western world’s foolish assumption of the very existence of this person at the top of the chain, and so my curiosity piqued to see how the questioning of our rudimentary “system” would be answered. Unfortunately, the questions were hardly asked.
Throughout the film Günther provides fleeting insightful nuggets in conversation with American Ambassador Martha Sullivan, played by Robin Wright (quite comfortable in a role almost identical to her excellent Claire Underwood); I think that development upon these nuggets could well have lifted this film out of mediocrity and into the profound.