Much like recent adaptation of Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, this is a quiet, but taut, spy drama. Unlike TTSS, it is set in modern times and, by intention, rings true enough to make you more than a little uncomfortable with the “war on terror.”
Despite some dialect slips, McAdams (About Time) and Wright (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) vanish into their roles rather nicely. Dafoe (Out of the Furnace) eventually merges with his character, but it was an initial struggle for me. And this is one of the main hitches in the film that kept me from a higher recommendation. Hoffman (The Master) had the same issue.
This is one of the risks of casting highly recognizable actors in character roles, sometimes an audience just can’t forget the actor for the story. It isn’t that Hoffman didn’t do a solid job, but there was something that stayed a little to much on the surface that kept me from just letting go of that recognition. My response may have been because it was one of Hoffman’s last films, which was a hard piece of information to forget, but I didn’t let that bother me for Gandolfini’s Enough Said or Violet & Daisy, so I mostly discount that concern.
Even with the distraction, the story remained compelling. Corbijn, who is better known for directing music videos, managed to avoid all stylization and just allowed the story to unfold on screen in a very natural way. The editing combined with Bovell’s script kept the rather boring world of spy work (the research and the waiting) at a tense level of concern for the audience. This isn’t another Bourne or MI film; it is Le Carre’s realistic view of spying and its dangers, and the man should know, he was one.