The terrific young Russian actor Grigoriy Dobrygin (How I Ended This Summer)
plays Issa Karpov, a Chechen refugee who has entered Hamburg illegally, and
is suspected by the Russian authorities of being a dangerous terrorist.
Bachmann and his team decide they can use him, in a sting operation of which
he’ll be entirely unaware, if they can first gain the trust of his
immigration lawyer (Rachel McAdams). A fortune is Issa’s by rights, tied up
in the inheritance his father entrusted to an international private bank,
under the beaky stewardship of Willem Dafoe. But it’s what he does with
these funds next that the spooks are gambling on.
Compared with the spider-web sprawl of machinations in Tinker, Tailor,
Soldier, Spy, the story here is contained, pointed and topically very
specific: it’s about degrees of allegiance to a notorious cause, and whether
having half a foot in the enemy’s camp is grounds to have the whole leg
amputated. Le Carré’s novel obliquely criticised the American government’s
policy of extraordinary rendition, advancing the softly-softly efforts of
these German operatives as simultaneously more humane and more strategically
canny. It’s Bachmann who has to explain the pointlessness of biting off one
small hydra-head, rather than exploiting the compromised ideologies of
Islamist sympathisers to dig right into the extremist mother lode.
There are plenty of political chips in play, in other words. But Corbijn’s
film, coolly detailed and patient with its information, even outdoes Tinker,
Tailor as ruffled human portraiture, a vital window into the personal cost
of retaining your principles. Bachmann hasn’t just been around the block:
he’s carried out fiendish recon on every corner of it. But he’s still
reliant on a certain degree of faith in handshakes, a long-established
confidence that he isn’t just a pawn in someone else’s game, rather than a
sovereign in his own.
Directed beautifully, Hoffman seems to have the whole film under lock and key,
but pads around cagily, watchfully, as if prowling the perimeter to stop an
imminent burglary. Bachmann has staked everything on this. The instruments
of his success, or failure, are gathered up so tightly in Hoffman’s clasp,
you get white knuckles just looking at him.