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‘The Innocent’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 02, 1995

"The Innocent," a baffling tale of sex, spies and telephone wires, explores the chaos in Cold War Berlin, a condition ironically mirrored by this multi-mooded, multinational film. An adaptation of Ian McEwan's bestseller, the romantic, unintentionally comic espionage drama further—and most hamfistedly—points out that paranoia is not conducive to happy marriages, trusted colleagues or clear lines of communication.

The film opens the day the Berlin Wall came down, but quickly flashes back to the early '50s when the devastated city was divided into American, British, French and Russian sectors. Into this muddle walks Leonard, a British telephone engineer played by American Campbell Scott. Leonard, a twentyish virgin in all things but telly repair, is taken under the wing of Bob Glass, a brash American spook played by Sir Anthony Hopkins. A German Mata Hari is played by the Italian Isabella Rossellini. Mamma mia.

Much to Leonard's surprise, he has been enlisted in Project Gold, a top-secret project jointly run by British and American intelligence. (The Brits are a bunch of prissy, tea-sipping fussbudgets who don't like those Coke-drinking, smarty-pants Yanks.) Their mission: to tunnel under the Russian sector and eavesdrop on commie communications via underground telephone lines.

Glass, a boisterous backslapper, repeatedly warns Leonard that he will be the target of femmes fatales and other cloak-and-dagger types who lurk around Berlin. One night Glass takes him out to a hot spot for a drink, where he meets and is later seduced by the ravishing Maria (Rossellini). Since Leonard is a nerd—his mother still irons his underwear—nobody can believe that Maria wants him for himself.

After Leonard loses his sexual innocence, other assaults upon his naivete follow, and before Leonard can send his shorts to the laundress he's been spied upon and asked to spy. Furthermore, he's become involved in a murder and is left carrying the bag. Well, actually two enormous suitcases, one for each half of the victim. No longer his neat and tidy former self, Leonard is walking around Berlin fending off curious dogs and searching for a place to store the suitcases.

Director John Schlesinger, whose last film was "Pacific Heights," adds deft comic touches early in the film—a nearsighted chanteuse who can't find the microphone, for example—but the suitcase stuff would fit nicely into the black comedy "Eating Raoul."

The acting proves as inconsistent as Schlesinger's ability to build and release suspense. In full swagger, Hopkins seems to be doing Teddy Roosevelt in preparation for the title role in "Nixon." Scott, in a lackluster leading role, is overwhelmed by Rossellini's lusty Fraulein. Rossellini recalls her mother, Ingrid Bergman, in an airport farewell scene that echoes "Casablanca." It doesn't detract from the actress's work, but it does invite negative comparisons. Talk about amounting to a hill of beans.

The Innocent is rated R for sexuality, violence, mild language and brief nudity.

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