The Secret Agent (1996) * Hidden Gem *
Genre: Period Drama (UK)
Starring: Bob Hoskins (Unleashed; Who Framed Roger Rabbit), Patricia Arquette (True Romance; A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors)Directed By: Christopher Hampton
Overview: London in 1880 is a city full of political strife, a refuge for all sorts of spies, Anarchists and Revolutionaries. This story follows one Agent Provocateur and the terrorist mission given to him.
Acting: With pretty much an all-star cast, we also have Robin Williams and Christian Bale gracing us with significant roles. This is the first film where I've seen Bob Hoskins as the lead and he plays a more subdued cerebral character, pulling it off wonderfully. When you need the question "What's my motivation?" in the front of your mind for every scene, your actors had better have the depth and experience necessary to pull it off, otherwise it risks being a failure. Well done.
Cinematography: Finally a period piece that puts you right there, in the period. The novel it's sourced from was a contemporary one written by Joseph Conrad so that does a lot to help set the mood. Little things like overly muddy streets, grand regal halls, filthy East London alleyways and the well-manicured roads of the upper-crust West are only one part of the look. The dynamic camerawork, the intricate sets and the costumes all come together to make a splendid visual display.
Script: "The police are there so as them as have nothing can't take nothing away from them as have a lot." - Winnie, explaining to her autistic brother why the police exist.
From time to time, the accents get a little heavy but overall, the political machinations, the nuances of dogma driven to extremes, the bold and separate identities of the players are all perfectly supported by the writing. It does after all come from a novel and why mess with perfection? No I haven't read it but I'm fairly certain that they left most of the dialogue unmolested. This isn't ripe with poetry but we do completely understand the characters. This is the kind of story where you're confused along the way but content in the knowledge that it will all be resolved to your satisfaction when it's over.
Plot: This story may not be for all of you. The plot, frankly, is a little thin, yet the subtext runs deep. For Joseph Conrad to connect so perfectly with the constant that is the ebb and flow of global politics, and to deliver it to us so well we have to be drawn into the mindsets of the characters rather than the events that take place. More like a slice of life and a character study than a plot-driven story, many of you might find it slow, but the rest of you will find it calculating. After everything that passes, the last moment teaches us a lesson so perfectly that all that has come before is worth the wait.
Mood: To start off with such a rich and interesting setting as Victorian London is often enough for many filmmakers but this goes one step further, adding the haunting music of Philip Glass and introducing deep political elements that were prevalent of the era. From technology to anarchy, from nihilism to terrorism, we are so deeply immersed in this world and the politics of these players that we truly know what's at stake and all the subtle nuances of their reasons.
Overall Rating: 88% (Truly A Mystery That Need Be Revealed!)
Aftertaste: Is there a single movie that Christian Bale is not a Superstar in? Alright, alright, I didn't like Laurel Canyon all that much but he was great in that story without an ending. It's interesting that he does roles that are as deep as American Psycho and The Machinist and somehow also ends up doing Action Films like Equilibrium (he's awesome in that) and Reign of Fire (a dragon fighting movie - don't ask). I guess he's versatile and that's great.
Er...right...The Secret Agent...Victorian London kicks ass. Become a Ripperologist! It's cool!