I had been looking forward to this movie for months and I have to admit I’m a little disappointed. First off, things move slooow. I know John LeCarré’s books are all about procedure and details and characters, but I want a little suspense now and then. Outside of one scene that riffs on The French Connection (1971), there is no action here. Second, the accents – obviously director Anton Corbijn sat his cast down and told them to avoid doing “vee hoff vays uff making you talk” Hollywood Nazi accents. The result is that everyone sounds like they are from Belgium, or Holland, or Israel. It’s distracting. Third, there’s Rachel McAdams. She’s gorgeous. Like an angel. But she’s supposed to be playing a Lynn Stewart-esque radical lawyer, and there’s nothing about her looks or fashion that comes off as lefty-lawyer – would it have killed her to wear a keffiyeh and a No Nukes button or something?
Now for the good stuff – of course Philip Seymour Hoffman turns in a great performance. In AMWM, he’s playing a spook that hunts down terrorists in Hamburg. He’s got a cloud over his head because of That Thing That Happened in Beirut (think Katie Morgan on 24 with That Thing Her Husband Did in China or Homeland’s Carrie Mathison with That Time She Freaked Out at Brody’s Place). But his main problem is that he has a dickish boss – like the guy on The Wire who always wants a photo-op ‘dope on the table’ bust. And like The Wire’s McNulty, Hoffman is playing the long game – he wants to use the one known bad guy as bait to go after the bigger fish. But can he stall the impatient bureaucrats long enough to get his man?
The movie is shot gorgeously by BenoÎt Delhomme, and all the German locations look like sets from a 1970’s science fiction movie. There is some fun stuff on the soundtrack too – if you listen carefully you can hear Gang of Four and DAF.
But the insurmountable problem is that the movie is just too long and slow. The BBC had some success turning LeCarré’s books into mini-series, with the late Alec Guiness as George Smiley. Perhaps they should have gone that route. Or maybe some smart editor could have chopped out half an hour of exposition. As it stands, I don’t recommend this movie – rent The Spy Who Came in From The Cold (1965) to see a truly great LeCarre adaptation.
Overall Score: 57
Letter Grade: C+