After an American scientist is severely injured and scarred in a car crash along the border with East Germany, he is captured by East German military. The scientists use metal implants to save him. Once he’s back in the States, no one can tell if it’s really him, so an intelligence specialist must determine who is under the “mask”.
User Reviews: Some of the negative reviews here seem to be because of not paying proper attention to the story (particularly, understanding the clever flashback structure), and/or getting hung up over the makeup/tin head effects. Its a huge shame that these might dissuade people from seeing this brilliant film.
The appearance of Lucas Martino (the tin man) is irrelevant. What matters is that all the FBI has to go on to identify him is his responses. Another reviewer (no doubt distracted by facebook rather than actually watching) mentioned ‘why don’t they just compare his fingerprints?’ but its explained in the film that whilst the arm may belong to Martino, it doesn’t guarantee that the head/mind does.
At its heart, the film explores a fascinating theme about identity, what makes a person who they are in a way that couldn’t be imitated and taught to someone else. Between the lines is a chess-game style thought-battle between two sides, figuring out what to do with this guy, and trying to solve the puzzle of how to prove that someone is who they say they are. There’s a desperate, tragic and lonely feeling underlying the conversations, when trying to distill the very essence of a person’s humanity.
What really makes the idea work is the meticulous structure of the film – we see the present day situation of the FBI trying to figure out who he is, intercut with flashbacks of the Russians questioning him and figuring out whether to send back a spy instead. So the audience has to think and consider all the angles along with both the Russian spy commander and the FBI agent, trying to second guess events but never really knowing for sure who the man is (or more importantly – HOW to know) until the very end.
I’ve seen this film at least six times and still enjoy its ideas and main philosophical puzzle each time, despite knowing the outcome. Its such a great shame that people are so blind-sided by the lack of action, the dodgy makeup effects, the woeful mis-marketing and obvious low budget of the film to recognise what is actually a great story, and a very intelligently structured film.
There are two particularly ropy moments – a car-chase/shootout at an airport, and a completely pointless/unnecessary moment where an agent chases our mystery man across a road, runs into the side of a car, then leaps over its hood and ends up dead. Next scene: mystery man says "Sorry about Finchley". FBI agents ignores it, moves into next line of questioning. Its pretty absurd. If these stupid shoe- horned attempts at ‘action’ were cut out completely, it would be a better film.
I would love to see a polished remake of this story by someone like Chris Nolan or Denis Villeneuve – taking the flashback structure and running with it to really explore the themes and push the emotional side into new territories. It would surely be a classic of philosophical sci-fi.
Genuinely, this is one of my favourite movies of all time.