I will forever remember the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Gunther, head of an anti-terrorism operation that, in his words, “not many people have heard of, and even less like.” He plays a subtly amusing fellow who seems intent on pissing off whoever he feels. He certainly is not a man who gives two shits about what others think of him, or his agency, and his sarcasm in many scenes is biting and you can’t help but smile at how well each wise-crack is delivered by this legendary actor. His organisation’s true intent though is shrouded in mystery, as this ‘slow-burn’ (I hate to use such a clichéd expression but it fits when describing this movie), suspenseful movie gradually unveils each of its hand of cards, in near perfect succession, creating the perfect amount of tension and guessing from the audience. The rest of the cast also shines here, most notably Rachel McAdams, who Gunther describes at one point as a “social worker for terrorists”, which was another crack that I couldn’t help but smile at.
Make no mistake: this is the swan song performance of Hoffman’s career; Fuck the Hunger Games. I hear they want to digitally reconstruct his image for a scene in the third (or fourth, or fifth, who bloody knows) installment of this dicky, YA orientated franchise. Could they disrespect this man in a more disgusting fashion? I am struggling to think of a way. If this is indeed the case, and Hoffman appears as a fucking digital hologram to end their movie, then I will say it again; hell I would shout this from the rooftops if I didn’t live right next to a highway.
FUCK. THE. HUNGER GAMES.
With that unpleasantness out of the way, lets talk more about this film shall we?
As I mentioned, I hesitate to use the phrase ‘slow-burn’ but that is exactly what this movie is. Patience is required. The pace of this movie is slow, but your attention will be rewarded as you find out snippets of information about Gunther, about his agency, and about the task they have on their plate that serves as the backbone to this fantastic movie. Racial profiling is subtly commented on, as within the first minutes there is a ‘suspicious’ person entering the country. See if you can guess what religion he follows. Go on, take a stab, I know it’s a real fucking hard question, but have a guess!
This profiling that Gunter’s agency makes though is not as it appears. There is a reason that his agency is disliked by everyone that isn’t involved in it seems! I will not reveal anymore, but I must say that this movie will keep you guessing, most pertinently: what does this ‘anti-terror’ agency actually do?? You will be guessing for a while, as this movie is slightly overlong, especially considering the slow pace overall. But once the bomb drops and you find out what his agency is actually up to, and what their true intentions are, you will suddenly sit bolt upright as the story gets turned on its head. The moral compass in this film is askew in too many ways to list, as there are so many parties looking at this same issue through very differently tinted glasses.
Another funny part of Hoffman’s performance/character is his disdain for Americans. His name is Gunther, so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that his agency has nothing to do with the US; it is based in Germany. Considering US foreign policy and the somewhat questionable tactics that they like to use abroad – despite no threat being posed to their country whatsoever, who can blame Gunther for wanting any American who comes near him to simply piss off and leave him alone!
Special mention must go to Rachel McAdams who plays the ‘social worker for terrorists’ extremely well and very, very convincingly. However, Gunther’s original assessment of her character isn’t quite right, taking into account her actions and what she wants to achieve. Another special mention must go to Grigoriy Dobrygin, playing the man who is profiled as suspicious at the beginning of the movie. He plays his character perfectly, especially considering what he has gone through just to arrive on German soil. And that is the big question: why has he come to Germany? Some are convinced that there must be a malicious reason. Because he is Muslim?! This movie really does hit the nail on the donkey when it comes to how these people are perceived and treated just because of a religion, but the same time it is not a message that is preached, or even overly present. It is simply a subtle theme of the movie that is impossible to ignore if you are indeed paying attention and are patient.
I think it goes without saying that this is a movie that approaches the concept of terrorism in a very different way to any other movie made about the subject. This is no ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ or ‘Lone Warrior’, that is for damned sure. That it is based in Europe is only the first element that sets this movie apart from the rest. Further reasons that make this movie unique are… Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find that out! I am not spoiling anything, and I make it my goal to never utter anything that could even be considered a spoiler of any sort.
The long, loong running time, combined with the slow pace, is something of a problem and while I did not mind it, I can imagine many movie-goers becoming impatient with that combination. Apart from this possible complaint, the only complaint I could honestly level at this film is… Actually, you know what? I can’t think of anything else. The movie is impeccably shot and edited, and as long as you have a brain in your skull and are paying attention, this will grip you until the end, bugger the long running time.
Rest in Peace Mr Hoffman. We will all miss you, but Gunther is the character that I will remember when thinking about his unfortunate passing. God’s Pocket was a good film, but this is right up there with one of the better films of the year.
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