This espionage thriller clearly demonstrates that the aftermath of 9/11 is not over yet. Plus, when I watched this film set in North Germany's metropolis Hamburg, I was curious to see how American actors do when they pretend to be Germans.
The story is about Issa Karpov, a Chechen ex-prisoner, who illegally arrives in Germany. Right from the start, he is closely watched by German espionage agent Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his team (among them German actors Daniel Brühl, Nina Hoss and Kostja Ullmann).
Bachmann also has local Muslim philanthropist Dr. Abdullah on his agenda who is believed to secretly fund terrorist activities with the money he claims to give to charities. As the story goes on, Karpov gets in touch with a young German immigration and human rights lawyer called Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams).
When Annabel and Issa realize that the air is getting thinner for Issa, Annabel hides him in her brother's apartment which is just being refurbished and thus vacant. Annabel is then "kidnapped" by Bachmann's team and forced to work with them - against Issa...
Hamburg looks like a really miserable, grim place throughout the film. In my experience there are so many brighter and nicer sides to this city, although the weather in Hamburg really is pretty miserable most of time. For the setting and genre of this thriller, showing Hamburg from its grim side is probably the most appropriate.
Naturally, most of the film was shot on location in Hamburg. Whenever you don't see Rachel McAdams cycling around the city like a true German girl would do, you may spot Philip Seymour Hoffman in the cult tavern Zum Silbersack, Silbersackstraße, which became the Admiral's Bar. The Deutsche Post, Überseering 30 was converted for the film into the police HQ and the Hotel Atlantic, An der Alster, served as the background location for an important meeting.
It's interesting to see Rachel McAdams pretending to be German. I read that she put a lot of effort into practicing her German accent and I think she does do a really good job. I can still hear of course that she is in fact Canadian and a native English speaker, but I do like her a lot as an actress.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died earlier this year from a fatal drug mixture, has always been a great actor in my opinion. I don't quite buy that he is a German called Günther, but then I don't think convincing people of this fact was a major goal of this film. In one of his last ever films, Hoffman truly shines.
I thought it was interesting and important to get an insight into this sort of secluded subject area, but somehow there wasn't enough pace for me.
My final verdict: Good if you're into espionage thrillers, but for me the scenes were often a bit too slow!
*** 3 out of 5 stars