Reputed to be in development as a reboot for Hugh Jackman for a good few years now, Charles Jarrott’s The Amateur is a tense, effective revenge thriller than makes the best of its mix of cold-blooded espionage and hot-blooded anger. A sense of righteous grievance is harnessed by a shocking opening as a terrorist gang storm the American embassy in West Germany and execute an American (Sarah Kaplan) while being filmed by live-tv crews; Jarrott’s film seeks to capture the mood of a world going to hell in a handbasket.
The set-up that follows feels modern enough. Widower Charles Heller (John Savage) is no secret agent, his speciality is mathematics and decoding messages, but when the CIA intelligence forces that he works for don’t respond for political reasons, Heller takes things into his own hands by infiltrating Eastern Bloc spy-networks in the hope of finding who killed his wife.
This scenario is all rather more plausaible than the usual techno-thriller mechanics, Heller uses his ability to hack into the CIA files to find declassified information and force the CIA to offer him some grudging support by blackmailing them; The Amateur makes a virtue of its savvy view of dirty black ops. Christopher Plummer, Marthe Keller and Arthur Hill are all names familiar to spy genre fans, and Robert Littell’s taut screenplay ducks many of the clichés expected.
The Amateur seems to have been taken out of the DVD and streaming loop system for some unknown but potentially sinister reason; just for fun, below is included a link to purchase a DVD for a cool $100 a pop. Why that price should be so high is a question worth investigation; The Amateur does a professional wet job that should have made more of a cultural imprint than it did.