Monday September 4, 1995

     "The Innocent," a ponderous, old-fashioned love story set in postwar Berlin, would surely have been far more effective had it actually been told in the '50s, the era in which it is set. In any event, it's 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's 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, despite his new boss, a tough, crude American (Hopkins) telling him he must not do so until 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 mainly on hand 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.


The Innocent, 1995. R, for sexuality, brief language and a sequence of violence. A Miramax presentation of a co-production of Lakehart Ltd., Sievernich Productions and DEFA. Director John Schlesinger. Executive producer Ann Dubinet. Producers Norma Heyman, Chris Sievernich, Wieland Schultz-Keil. Screenplay by Ian McEwan; from his novel. Cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann. Editor Richard Marden. Costumes Ingrid Zorre. Music Gerald Gouriet. Production designer Lucianna Arrighi. Art director Dieter Dohl. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes. Anthony Hopkins as Glass. Isabella Rossellini as Maria. Campbell Scott as Leonard. Ronald Nitschke as Otto.