“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.”

— William Shakespeare

A tall, bearded and filthy young man in a water-soaked hoodie emerges from the dark Atlantic at the port of Hamburg. He has the eyes of a dog who had been tossed into the sea, and is surprised to still be alive. He is Issa Karpov,(Grigoriy Dobrygin) an escaped Turkish prisoner with a shattered past and story to tell. With a backpack at his shoulder, he strides into the city. He knows he is in Hamburg, we know we are in Le Carre country.

Director Anton Corbijn (“The American”) takes us on a tour of the glitter and the grime, in an ancient city full of dark rooms and darker voices, where we are told that the horror story of 9/11 began.

Issa is here, carrying a “device,” a key to a stunning fortune, left to him by his deceased Russian general father, in a Hamburg bank in the care of Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe).

To Issa, it is blood money, stolen by his corrupt father, and Issa, a devout Muslim, wants to make sure every penny is given to Muslim hospitals in Chechnya and throughout the world.

Issa is our most wanted man, by the cloak and dagger players who want him taken and sent to Guantanamo for torture. Some see a possible terrorist. Others see a victim. Before long, we will learn about Issa’s past, and that almost everyone is wrong.

But it is Gunther Bachman, a legendary agent in a special German intelligence group who holds the focus here. Gunther is the literary step child of Le Carre’s Hans Dieter Mundt, who almost made it over the wall in “The Spy Who Came in From The Cold.”

Gunther is a typical Le Carre anti-hero, dumpy, overweight and like Mundt, a functioning alcoholic. Gunther has lived on the dark side so long, he squints at the slightest flash of the bright light of hope.

This man is, of course, why we’re here. This is the storied Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Gunther, meticulous and patient zealot in his pursuits, has his handpicked team, loyal and loving, especially his right-hand woman, Nina Hoss (Irna Frey). He knows the value of the “long game.” The snatch and grab techniques of the other groups eager for quick results is not his style. It was because of inter-agency rivalry that the terrorists of 9/11 succeeded.

A series of events forces a reluctant Gunther to work with Annabel Richter, (Rachel McAdams) a German public advocate who works with immigrants. A deep cover friend has arranged for her to defend Issa.

The CIA of course is here, represented by Robin Wright as agent Martha Sullivan, black suited, smart phoned and cold eyed. Agent Sullivan admires Gunther and would appear to be on his side. But this is Germany, and she is CIA. What could possibly go wrong?

Director Corbijn builds his movie in the good, old-fashioned British way, like a pointillist, one colored dot at a time, until, at the finale, we stand back and gasp at what we’ve missed.

There is a finale, but no explosions and no one is shot, in fact, we never even see a gun. This is a chess game, where guns will win you nothing.

Gunther’s enemies are not the Russians, but the leaders of rival intel groups who envy his record and want to bring him down.

It isn’t long into the film before we see what really makes our hero tick. When the CIA agent asks him what it is he seeks, he replies, with a card shark’s smile, ” to make the world a safer place?” Our Gunther knows that such a world is a storybook fable. It is for him, the game, and sadly one he knows isn’t always going to go his way.

The script by Andrew Bovell, taken from Le Carre’s novel, sticks to the details and doesn’t wander around in long speeches. It’s pure Le Carre.

Each member of the cast including Homayoun Ershadi as Abdullah, a wealthy Muslim suspect, is perfect.

But it’s Hoffman, who stands out, like a rare white wolf in a dark green forest, one that he owns. We know he’s gone, and we’ve come to honor the greatest film and stage actor since Marlon Brando. Goodnight Sweet Prince, thanks for the ride.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.

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