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Over a decade has passed since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the German city of Hamburg, where the bombers lived and plotted, remains on high alert. At dusk, a grimy, bearded young man with a backpack emerges as if from the River Elbe itself. Head down, hood up, he keeps to the docks with the city's other vagrants. But his grainy image is soon caught on camera by an observant group of intelligence operatives. They are run by the dishevelled, whisky-drinking, chain- smoking Gunter Bachmann (PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN). Bachmann and his team of sharp young spies comprise a secretive anti-terror unit that works under the radar for Germany's intelligence services to cultivate sources within Hamburg's Islamic community. Bachmann's right-hand woman is the cool, sophisticated Irna Frey (NINA HOSS). They share an easy warmth and an office dominated on Bachmann's side by a wall studded with photographs and Post-It notes.
They identify the young man as Issa Karpov (GRIGORIY DOBRYGIN), a 26 year-old Chechen classified by Interpol as an escaped militant jihadist. He is talking to a man in a sailor's hat they discover is a drifter called The Admiral (MARTIN WUTTKE). He drinks in a bar called the Silbersack, where Bachmann contrives to meet him. He offers The Admiral money in return for information on Karpov under the pretence of a missing persons' search and with his colleagues, Niki (VICKY KRIEPS) and Maximillian (DANIEL BRUHL), pretending to be a kissing couple in the background. The Admiral reveals the Chechen is looking for a banker named Thomas Brue (WILLEM DAFOE), the head of private bank Brue Freres.
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