The Secret Agent

Watching the handsome adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent, you can see why the star, Bob Hoskins (who served as executive producer), and the director, Christopher Hampton, thought it would make a terrific movie. Conrad’s tale of a working-class agent provocateur in Victorian England — a worm among men — reeks of Dostoyevskian godlessness, but it’s also got bombs, double-crossings … and more bombs. It’s an existential howl in pulp-thriller clothing. Hampton wrings every last drop of intrigue out of the story, which keeps circling back to a cataclysmic mishap: Hoskins sets off an explosion to undermine the anarchist group he’s infiltrated, but the device accidentally blows up his retarded brother-in-law. Anguished over her lost sibling, Hoskins’ pretty young wife (Patricia Arquette) retaliates. The domestic melodrama is stilted and implausible, and Hoskins has played the sweaty proletarian oaf once too often. The film’s most gripping element is Robin Williams’ unbilled performance as a bomb nut who has wired himself to explode in a crowd. He makes a chillingly convincing modern misanthrope. C+

The Secret Agent
  • Movie
  • 95 minutes