The Secret Agent

1996, Movie, R, 94 mins


Writer-director Christopher Hampton's adaptation of Joseph Conrad's widely-read novel is an honorable failure, a screen version that's actually too faithful to its source. Bob Hoskins stars as Verloc, a member of a Soho anarchist organization who also serves as a spy for the Russian Embassy in London, keeping them informed of his group's revolutionary activities. When he's ordered to act as an agent provocateur by his Embassy contact, staging an "outrage" by setting off a bomb in the Greenwich Observatory in order to call attention to the anarchist problem, Verloc cruelly enlists the unwitting aid of his simpleminded brother-in-law, Stevie (Christian Bale). Stevie stumbles en route to the observatory and is killed when the bomb goes off prematurely, leaving Verloc to face an unexpected angel of vengeance: his heretofore passive wife, Winnie (Patricia Arquette). Hampton's word-for-word approach effectively captures the septic atmosphere of Conrad's London, but the novel's structure just isn t very cinematic. Since there are few visual correlatives to Conrad's satire, it makes for some very clumsy pacing and inexplicable characterizations. Alfred Hitchcock recognized the need for some serious rethinking of the novel, and his 1936 SABOTAGE is a less faithful but far more successful adaptation. leave a comment

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