A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
I have been wondering ever since I read it why someone doesn't make a movie out of Joseph Conrad's novel “Victory.” It tells the story of a proud, lonely man, the young woman who comes to share his hideaway on an island, the murderers who invade their solitude, and the way he must choose between philosophy and violence. I see John Malkovich as the man and Lili Taylor as the woman.
In a more perfect world, I could go on to describe the movie, its surprises and riches, its depths of character, its marriage of ideas and action. But in this world I am forced instead to review “The Secret Agent,” an overcast new film made from a different novel by Joseph Conrad (from, indeed, perhaps the least filmable novel he ever wrote).
The action takes place mostly in 1890s London--or in a small, rainy corner of London represented by a claustrophobic studio set. In a shabby street corner shop, a man named Verloc (Bob Hoskins) sells pornography to furtive men. “Would you like to have a look at . . .something more interesting?” he asks, insinuating himself, as all pornographers must, into the needs of his clients.
Pornography is not his real business. He is a member of an anarchist cell. Its members meet in Verloc's flat, planning the destruction of society. But anarchy is not his real business, either; he is a double agent, paid by the Russians to infiltrate exile groups. (These are the Czarist Russians, of course, although the Soviet version also hated anarchists.) Verloc lives with a ripe young woman (Patricia Arquette) who has married him for only one reason: To find a home for her little brother (Christian Bale), who is retarded. She pours tea uneasily for her husband's friends, and reduces all of the film's politics into an angry statement to her mother (“The police are there so that them as have nothing can't take nothing away from them as have a lot”).