It tells the story of an aging CIA agent who is being pushed out by a new Director who doesn't think he belongs in the field anymore, despite his contacts and knowledge of the Russian operatives, and so he takes him off active duty and replaces him with his younger partner. However the agent won't go quietly and destroys his own file, heads off into the world with the crazy notion of publishing his memoirs and exposing agencies on both side of the Cold War fence.
So he heads off to Switzerland to meet an old flame and enlists her help to start writing the manuscript chapter by chapter, mailing a copy to all the agencies concerned and also his publishing house. At the same time he goes on the run, trying to stay once step ahead of the agencies who now wish to kill him.
Hopscotch has a similar style to those conspiracy thrillers from the seventies, but here there's a wry sense of wit through the script, a lot of which shines through Walter Matthau and his character, role which gained him a Golden Globe nomination.
He plays the agent perfectly, always seeming confident and self assured and yet taking everything in his stride and at his own pace. He is beginning to age here as an actor, but it suits the part really well, although the romantic relationship with Glenda Jackson's character does seem a little stretched. That said it is really well handled with many implications and light innuendos, but nothing ever shown on screen or pushed too far.
Of course she's no longer the young actress she once was, but no less of an actress either. She matches up perfectly well Matthau and there's a great chemistry and timing between them.
Although there aren't out and out laughs here, remember this is a thriller, there are plenty of entertaining and amusing moments, something the script does well to balance together.
Sam Waterston does appear a little wooden to begin with as the younger agent that Matthau's character has trained, but both his boss and KGB opposite played by Ned Beatty and Herbert Lom respectively, deliver enjoyable performances.
The story is nicely paced and builds up to a satisfying conclusion. There are a few moments in the plot that seem to come out of nowhere and you had no previous indication or reference of, but these are minor and for the most it flows smoothly along.
It does manage to hide the conclusion and the intentions of Matthau's agent really well, and while there's not a big reveal or surprise as we would see nowadays - it isn't as though you've already guessed what's going to happen up front - the story is handled well and provides entertainment right up until the end.
The picture isn't fantastic and does show that it's from an older film, but it isn't damaged or marked, nor is there any problem in the digital version, it just looks like older stock film. To be honest after a short while you've soon forgotten that.
Dolby Digital 2.0
Again nothing special from the audio with only a stereo transfer. However there's nothing much more than dialogue and ambient sounds so you don't find you're missing much.
Introduction by director Ronald Neame and writer Brian Garfield
The sole introduction does seem a little disappointing at first, but the great news about the extra is that it's longer than expected and there's plenty of insightful information on it, particularly regarding the exceptional casting on the film and Walter Matthau himself.
Watching films like this are a joy, they are much simpler and unencumbered as a film covering the same plot would be nowadays. That's not to say it wouldn't be better, but these films have much more charm and elegance about them, as well as more accessibility to the characters.
The plot is interesting, but it's the characters and actors behind them who make this a worthwhile watch, particularly Walter Matthau. Ned Beatty and Glenda Jackson provide excellent support and the comedy mixed through with the thriller work well. I would have liked to have seen more weight on the thriller side, but as it is the feel matches the actors very well.
The DVD is sparse by today's standards, but you have to realise that there's probably not the material around to load it up, however I did enjoy this film, and compared to a lot of releases so far this year it gave me much more entertainment. This is a surprising film from the past that I really wasn't expecting to enjoy so much.