Friday, January 21, 2011

#168. Hidden Agenda (1990)

DVD Synopsis: American activists Paul Sullivan (Brad Dourif) and his fiancée Ingrid Jessner (Frances McDormand) journey to Belfast to probe allegations of brutal human rights abuses by British security forces. When Paul is killed under mysterious circumstances, the official reports list him as an I.R.A. accomplice. But Ingrid and British policeman Paul Kerrigan (Brian Cox) question the findings and begin to uncover a shocking high-level conspiracy. Now, with their safety in jeopardy, they must decide whether to risk everything to reveal the truth.

Weaving a tale of murder and political conspiracy, Hidden Agenda is a searing thriller set against the backdrop of strife-torn Northern Ireland. 

Director Ken Loach, who also helmed the brilliant The Wind That Shakes the Barley in 2006, takes a very specific approach to his construction of Hidden Agenda, one in which the camera “hangs back”, keeping, at all times, a slight distance from the action; close enough to pick up what's going on, yet at the same time far enough back to take everything in. Conversations, no matter how personal or dramatic they may be, are almost never shown in close-up.  In the film's opening scene, two young Irishmen are testifying as to how they were tortured by their British interrogators, yet despite the intensity of their individual stories, the camera spends as much time examining the reactions of those in the room as it does focusing on the two young men. It's a technique that Loach employs time and again throughout Hidden Agenda, one that brings a real documentary feel to the film. 

There are a million tales surrounding Northern Ireland, from it's rich cultural history to the bloody conflicts that have plagued the area for the better part of the 20th century. Hidden Agenda tells one of these stories, and tells it very, very well.

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