Hidden Agenda

1990, Movie, R, 108 mins


Director Ken Loach (POOR COW, THE GAMEKEEPER) here offers a plot-heavy thriller to which his naturalistic approach is inappropriate and ineffective. As propaganda, the film is intelligently presented and scary in its implications, but as suspenseful entertainment, it is cramped and poorly paced. The film is set in a hopelessly divided Northern Ireland where British forces continually scour cities and towns in search of IRA members. Paranoia is so rampant that the police have adopted a "shoot to kill" policy. In a land where the entire country seems to be under house arrest, a panel of lawyers, working under the auspices of an international amnesty group, is investigating charges of prisoner mistreatment. American attorney Paul Sullivan (Brad Dourif) is drawn into the fray when he is informed of the existence of a tape that proves there is a conspiracy among supporters of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Telling his plans to no one, including his girl friend and fellow panel member Ingrid Jessner (Frances McDormand), Paul agrees to a secret meeting with Harris (Maurice Roeves), a British secret service turncoat who has a copy of the tape. Paul is killed by a squad of secret police and the tape confiscated. Embarrassed over the death of an American, the British government dispatches a police unit to investigate the incident. The unit is led by the dogged and honest Inspector Kerrigan (Brian Cox). As Kerrigan sifts through the clues, with Ingrid's assistance, he soon learns the truth, but finds that a coverup has been engineered to hide the facts of the case, and that involvement in the coverup reaches high in the Thatcher government. Despite interference from authorities, the two continue the investigation, and Ingrid meets with the mysterious Harris, who tells her that the tape contains evidence of a CIA-backed English plot to unseat former Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Ingrid eventually succeeds in securing a copy of the tape, but Harris is slain by British forces, and Kerrigan gives in to pressure from high-ranking British politicians, abandoning the investigation, leaving Ingrid to attempt to reveal the conspiracy with no official support.

Well-intentioned, but rather murky, HIDDEN AGENDA chokes on its own righteous anger. The documentary approach employed by Loach doesn't work here as the film needs a leaner shaping and a deeper focus on its characters. Instead of sweeping the audience from one startling discovery to the next, the film moves slowly along, intriguing the viewer, but never gripping him. While the sordid plottings depicted in the film do engender outrage, the film never really penetrates the ugly vortex of British policies in Northern Ireland, leaving the viewer to almost casually observe the scheming from the outside. (Extreme violence, profanity.) leave a comment

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