2 August 2005 | dmh7-1
Boyer Isn't Spanish and Bacall Isn't British, Yet...
I watch a lot of films, good, bad and indifferent; there is usually something of interest to fixate upon, even if it is only set design, or the reliable labor of a good character actor, or the fortuitous laughter that emerges from watching ineptitude captured forever.
However, I was quite pleasantly surprised by this film, one I had never seen before. Graham Greene has been translated into film many times of course, in such masterpieces as "Thin Man" and in lesser vehicles. "Confidential Agent" is one of those lesser vehicles, yet it manages to get me somewhere anyway, despite lackluster direction, the incongruity of Bacall and Boyer's depictions as (respectively) British and Spanish, and the almost complete non-existence of any chemistry between the two leads. In some ways, this last "problem" actually begins to work in the film's favor, for how can love really blossom in the killing atmosphere of fascism and capitalism meeting about one person's tragedy? The most compelling aspect of the film arises directly from Greene's complex and guilt-ridden psychology, which pervades the film. I know some see the deliberate pacing here as dull, and I can understand that. Yet I found that plodding accentuated rather than detracted from what is a claustrophobic world. I was compelled to watch, not by any great acting (although Boyer is marvelous as usual, managing to convey a rich mixture of world-weariness, tragedy, hope, and fervor with his magnificent voice and yearning eyes), but by the down-spiraling rush of one man's slim hopes against a world of oppression and money. What is a thief? What good is love in the face of death? Where does mere profit-taking end and exploitation begin? The film does not rise to the level of art, and thus cannot hope to answer such questions, but it is much more than mere entertainment, and its murders and guilts are very grimly drawn. The lack of glitz, of "bubble," of narrative "bounce" help to make this movie very worthwhile.
And there is no happy ending, for history wrote the ending.