Hidden Agenda has long been on my list of films to see. As a fan of the political thriller genre I was intrigued by its premise. Now, having finally found it and had the opportunity to see it I was presently surprised. The film surpassed my expectations and easily ranks amongst the best political thrillers I've seen.
The performances are the staring point of this phenomenal film. Frances McDormand gives a marvelous performance as American civil rights activist Ingrid Jessner as Brian Cox as Kerrigan, the top investigator investigating the death of Jessner's boyfriend. The result is that, together and separately, they give two highly watchable performances that keep your attention focused on the screen. There's also the supporting cast including Brad Dourif as the murdered boyfriend, Maurice Roëves as the mysterious army officer Harris who has all the secrets plus Bernard Archard and Patrick Kavanagh as two politicians at the heart of the film's conspiracy.
The film is, if nothing else, a conspiracy thriller. What may seem like an odd murder in Northern Ireland soon turns out to be mired in the politics of Thatcher era Britain. The film, while fictional, seems to be far too real for comfort. Writer Jim Allen has crafted a thriller that blends fact and fiction together and so well that the fine line between the two is blurred when it comes to the issues of 1980's Northern Ireland, how Thatcher got herself elected and how governments deal with terrorism. Of even greater surprise is that the plot doesn't overwhelm the dialogue. Unlike some political thrillers, in this film scenes come alive not just from the performances of the actors but from the words on the pages themselves. While it deals with 1980's Northern Ireland one can't help but see the relevant issues ever present in the film nearly twenty years on.
On top of the script there's the documentary like approach that makes the film too realistic for comfort. Clive Tickner's cinematography is the main reason this succeeds so well in that it never feels like a Hollywood film. The result is that (thankfully) one gets the feeling of being a fly on the wall for many of the scenes which makes the blurring of fact and fiction even more successful. Add on the realistic costume and production design along with the tight editing of Jonathon Morris and the result is an all too realistic thriller.
Hidden Agenda is what a political thriller should be. With its combination of fantastic performances, well written script, its realistic design work and especially its documentary like cinematography make it too realistic to be ignored. While it may deal with 1980's Britain in Northern Ireland it's a thriller with a message too strong to be ignored. It's a first rate and a must see for fans of the genre of the political thriller.