John Schlesinger’s “The Innocent” rings hollow, un-erusing both its top-drawer talent and compelling Berlin locations. Despite a close screen translation by Ian McEwan of his novel of intrigue, espionage, betrayal and love , pic lacks real drama. Name cast headed by Anthony Hopkins and Isabella Rossellini looks likely to attract auds only briefly.
Pic double world-preemed Sept. 16 in Berlin, with English and German-dubbed versions unspooling in separate locations.
A bespectacled Campbell Scott plays the central role of Leonard Markham, a young, naive and virginal British engineer sent to Berlin in 1955, at the height of the Cold War, for reasons he does not know. His commanding officer, Lofting (Jeremy Sinden, in a spunky perf), is warily cooperative with U.S. forces.
Lofting turns Markham over to Bob Glass (Hopkins), a CIA officer overseeing Operation Gold, a British-West German espionage project to intercept communications between East Germany and the Soviet Union.
Glass is a reserved type who repeatedly reiterates to Markham his own obsessions and the film’s dramatic crux: Everyone is a potential spy or informant, nothing and no one is as it seems. Glass’ mistrust extends to Maria (Rossellini), who picks up Markham in a dance hall and with whom he soon falls in love.
Having set the scene, both McEwan’s script and Schlesinger’s direction forge ahead to resolve the conflicts established in the first two reels. So intent is the film on its narrative purpose that it fails to build tension or suspense. The main characters develop no idiosyncrasies or even fleshed-out personalities that can later be debunked. When story threads are unexpectedly concluded, there’s no catharsis.
When Markham finally enters a secret tunnel dug by the allies deep under the Soviet sector to tap phone lines, the assignment is deftly finished using a pair of pliers — a weak resolution to the script’s setup of a delicate, top-secret mission, as well as Markham’s alleged talents as an engineer.
The Maria-Markham love story satisfies even less, especially in light of Schlesinger’s usual sure hand in portraying relationships. Rossellini’s Maria comes across unevenly, with abrupt character shifts. The shocking murder that climaxes their story in the novel is stripped of passion in the film, as it’s unclear what the lovers mean to one another.
Bookending the film with scenes of the Berlin Wall’s fall seems a gratuitous touch, with a bathetic ending of the lovers reuniting 34 years later.
Performances in the pic are mostly understated, with Hopkins’ Glass muted and one-dimensional, a character who’s never allowed to penetrate into the story’s foreground. As Markham, Scott carries the film well but gets no chance to fill out his role.
Dietrich Lohmann’s lensing is fluid and assured, eloquently using many eastern Berlin locations that convey the menacing atmosphere of postwar Germany. Well-cast supporting roles, many played by native Germans, help to buoy an otherwise bland film.