In watching the film A Most Wanted Man, the issue of accents in films once again entered my mind. The film takes place in Germany and almost all the main characters are supposed to be German. Germans taking to other Germans in Germany would naturally speak German. So the natural thing would be to have the film in German with English subtitles.
But for some reason, subtitles are disliked by many viewers, and are seen as box-office poison. Subtitles do not bother me and I actually prefer it rather that have people speaking in English when it would not be normal to do so. For example, the film The Lives of Others (2006) was made in German with English subtitles and it was excellent. But given the supposed dislike of subtitles by English-speaking audiences, this is a recurring problem with English-language films that have foreign characters. To emphasize that they are foreign they are given an accent.
Since A Most Wanted Man is an American-made film done in English for English-speaking audiences and the actors in the films playing these roles (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel MacAdams, and Willem Dafoe) are all Americans, the film makers did what they usually do in such situations and that is to have the characters speak in English with what is supposed to be a German accent. These big-budget films usually hire voice and accent coaches to help the actors sound authentic but people who are native speakers of that region usually say that even the best actors with the best coaches do not capture the accents accurately, even when it comes to Americans speaking in regional accents within the US. In this film, the speakers drift in and out of the German accent but for me the main problem I had to overcome was not whether the way they spoke was how a German would speak English, but that a German in that situation would not be speaking in English at all.
I noticed that in The Grand Budapest Hotel, that takes place in some fictional European country between World Wars I and II, the filmmakers had each character speak however was native to them and did not bother to try and achieve uniformity in accent, even though the people were all supposed to be from the same country.
Fake accents can add value to a film is when carried to the extreme for comedic purposes. I am thinking of Peter Sellers speaking English with an outrageous French accent in the Pink Panther series or with an equally exaggerated Indian accent in The Party as in the trailers below.