It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Hopscotch" is a shaggy-dog thriller that never really thrills us very much, but leaves a nice feeling when it's over. That's partly because of the way Walter Matthau fools around with dialogue until he wears it well, and partly because the movie's shot at a measured, civilized, whimsical pace. It's a strange thing to say about a thriller, but "Hopscotch" is . . . pleasant.
The movie's based on a best seller by Brian Garfield, the author of Death Wish, and his hero once again is a guy who single-handedly takes on the establishment. But while the Charles Bronson character in "Death Wish" hunts down and kills muggers, the Matthau character in "Hopscotch" mostly wants to toy with his enemies - to frustrate them with his superior cunning.
They, on the other hand, want to kill him. They are the CIA. Matthau plays a veteran field operative who breaks up a Soviet operation in Munich but fails to arrest the head of the KGB when he has him in the palm of his hand. Matthau's called back to Washington, where a new man (Ned Beatty) has taken over control of the department. Beatty is a veteran of the CIA's clandestine "dirty tricks" operation, and the movie hints that he was the guy behind sending the poisoned cigars to Castro, among other dumb stunts.
Anyway, Beatty yanks Matthau out of the field and assigns him to the filing department. Matthau doesn't like that. He destroys his own files, walks out of the agency, flies to Austria, and deliberately leads the CIA to believe that he has decided to cooperate with the Soviets. Then he has a rendezvous with an old love (Glenda Jackson), holes up in her chateau, and starts writing his memoirs. They include detailed revelations about CIA activities, and he mails each chapter to the world's leading spy agencies.