"The Innocent," a ponderous, old-fashioned love story set in postwar Berlin, surely would have been far more effective had it actually been told in the '50s, the era in which it is set. In any event, it is altogether the wrong movie at the wrong time, despite the earnest efforts of its stars--Campbell Scott, Isabella Rossellini and Anthony Hopkins--and their distinguished director, John Schlesinger.
Scott lives up to the title role with a vengeance. He is cast as a British telephone engineer enlisted in a top-secret project run by British and American intelligence, an actual operation, lasting from 1954 to 1956, involving digging and equipping a massive underground tunnel in order to eavesdrop on communist communications in the Russian sector. No sooner does he arrive than he enters the tunnel, even though his new boss, a tough, crude American (Hopkins), has told him he must not do so before he obtains a clearance.
Much more seriously, he disregards Hopkins' admonition to be wary of romantic entanglements, and promptly falls in love with Rossellini's beautiful woman of mystery the moment he casts eyes on her at a nightclub. In no time at all Scott has plunged headlong into disaster, endangering the project and his life as well.
No one gets much help from Ian McEwan's script, adapted from his own novel. Scott's humorless engineer generates little or no sympathy, and Hopkins is on hand mainly to give a mannered interpretation of a classic Ugly American. The master German cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann gives the film a wonderfully dark, shadowy look, making splendid use of seedy locales in the former East Berlin, but McEwan gives us very little in the way of genuine suspense or intrigue to go along with some terrific atmosphere; there's not that much sense of Cold War tensions.
A framing story, set as the Berlin Wall crumbles, both trivializes that momentous event and reveals that Scott's engineer is essentially the same dense prig he was when we met him some 35 years earlier. And the considerable presence of Rossellini, for all her unique radiance and talent, perversely has the effect of making us feel as if we're looking at one of Ingrid Bergman's lesser old movies.
\o7 * MPAA rating: R, for sexuality, brief language and a sequence of violence. Times guidelines: The film is fairly mild for its rating but is still unsuitable for children.\f7
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Anthony Hopkins: Glass
Isabella Rossellini: Maria
Campbell Scott: Leonard
Ronald Nitschke: Otto
A Miramax presentation of a co-production of Lakehart Ltd., Sievernich Productions and DEFA, directed by John Schlesinger. Producers: Norma Heyman, Chris Sievernich, Wieland Schultz-Keil. Executive producer: Ann Dubinet. Screenplay by Ian McEwan, from his novel. Cinematographer: Dietrich Lohmann. Editor: Richard Marden. Music: Gerald Gouriet. Costumes: Ingrid Zorre. Production designer: Lucianna Arrighi. Art director: Dieter Dohl. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes.
\o7 * At the Edwards Town Center cinema, 3199 Park Center Drive, Costa Mesa ( 751-4184) and the Edwards Rancho Niguel 8, 25471 Rancho Niguel Road, Laguna Niguel ( 831-0446.) \f7