A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
The tragedy of Northern Ireland is like a broken record. There was another incident just the other day, the shooting death of young Fergal Caraher. The British authorities say he was shot while in a car trying to run a roadblock. Witnesses say he was shot without provocation. Thousands marched at his funeral. An investigation is promised.
Ken Loach’s lacerating new film "Hidden Agenda" centers on an incident uncannily like the Caraher shooting. Two men in a car are shot without warning by British security forces. There is a great outcry. An investigation is promised. The movie, set in the recent past, is inspired by the Stalker Affair, in which a senior British police official, John Stalker, was assigned to investigate a killing by British security officials - and then suddenly was removed from the investigation after uncovering evidence that the shooting was unjustified. That was a conclusion the Thatcher government could not tolerate.
"Hidden Agenda" is put together like a political thriller, like "Z" or "No Way Out," but it adds a gritty everyday realism. The story is seen through the eyes of two Americans assigned to investigate charges that British security forces have sanctioned murder as a tactic in their struggle against Irish nationalism. The Americans (Frances McDormand and Brad Dourif) are members of a human rights group like Amnesty International, and are idealists out of their depth in the dangerous world they have entered. They become pawns in the political struggle when an IRA man slips a tape recording to them - an explosive tape with evidence that could not only lead to a murder conviction, but also suggests that a British right-wing group had run a "dirty tricks" campaign against national leaders.
Brian Cox plays the character based on Stalker. He’s a policeman who prides himself on ethical behavior, and he finds himself distinctly unwelcome in Northern Ireland. A senior Ulster policeman all but threatens him with death if he proceeds in his investigation, and tacitly concedes that the police have had to use illegal tactics to counter the terrorism of the IRA. But Cox persists, meeting with shadowy IRA figures in the back rooms of pubs and trying to get to the bottom of a killing that many powerful people would rather he forget.