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Film review: Trial, The

Published: Tuesday, April 12 1994 12:00 a.m. MDT

"The Trial" gives Anthony Hopkins second-billing, though he has only one scene. That scene is certainly a show-stopper, however.

The central role of innocent bank clerk Josef K. goes to the somewhat stiff Kyle MacLachlan, best known for his portrayal of agent Cooper in the TV and movie versions of "Twin Peaks." And his stiffness actually suits the character to some degree, though it also keeps the audience at arm's-length from what is already a strongly detached effort.

For the unfamiliar, the story has Josef K., who lives in an unnamed European city, rising for breakfast on the morning of his 30th birthday to find that he is under arrest. He is never allowed to understand why, however, and what follows is a series of encounters with vague characters in dark corners, as he attempts to acquit himself . . . though defending oneself against the unknown is difficult at best.

Full of atmosphere and filmed in Prague, where gothic architecture assists the ambience, the film has an interesting look. But the film is academic, a faithful but faithless adaptation that gets all the details right but doesn't invest them with any energy or wit.

Still, there is a wonderful parade of British performers that almost make it all worthwhile, including Hopkins, who is quite wonderful as an enigmatic prison priest offering up a convoluted parable; Polly Walker and Alfred Molina (both of "Enchanted April"), as, respectively, a seductive maidservant and a strangely knowledgable lawyer; David Thewlis ("Naked") as an overly emotional agent of the state; Juliet Stevenson ("Truly, Madly, Deeply"), as a woman who lives in Josef K.'s building, and others. Jason Robards also shows up as a sly bedridden attorney.

The screenplay is by noted playwright Harold Pinter ("Betrayal," "The Caretaker"), and the film is directed by David Jones (the movie version of "Betrayal," "84 Charing Cross Road," "Jacknife"). But despite their credentials, "The Trial" remains a plodding, sadly aloof work, one that will doubtless become merely a footnote in the careers of those involved.

Though unrated, it would doubtless receive an R for violence, sex, profanity and some nude photos and drawings.

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