This John Le Carré adaptation courtesy of noted photographer-turned-filmmaker Anton Corbijn (Control) gets off on the wrong foot, with the frame lingering in fixed position on waves lapping lazily against a dock wall at first light. It’s a strong, stark, photographic image reflecting, perhaps, the maker’s bias for aesthetics over substance? Or maybe it’s the photographer exorcising that side of himself before driving into new territory, for the film thereafter is indeed a film, not an art installation.
Not that it doesn’t have a look; Corbijn (and cinematographer Benoît Delhomme) capture a cold, hardened Hamburg filtered through hues of blue and tints of grey. That reflects the steely natures of its characters, not least the gruff-but-good super-spy played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final lead performance (and what a performance!).
As an espionage thriller, this is indeed a work of character and plot, of shady deals, troubled alliances and double crossings, haunting and moving without submitting to the image of it all. Could it have made better use of actors like Daniel Brühl who are relegated here to bit parts? Probably; there’s no real need for Rachel McAdams or Willem Dafoe other than market appeal. But it still works exceedingly well, and it’s a more than fitting tribute to Hoffman, the actor’s actor.