One morning, in turn of the century Prague, Josef K. (Kyle MacLachlan) wakes up to discover that two detectives are in his room. They tell him that he is under arrest but they do not tell him the charges. Josef remains free to go about his everyday life but he must report to the court whenever the court deems to see him. No matter where Josef turns or who he talks to, he cannot get any answers concerning what he has been charged with. Even his disinterested attorney (Jason Robards) can not give him a straight answer on why he is being prosecuted. No matter how much Josef protests that he is innocent of whatever has been accused of, his fate has already been decided.
On paper, this film version of Franz Kafka’s classic novel sound like it should be a masterpiece. The film was shot on location in Prague, the script was written by Harold Pinter, and Kyle MacLachlan seems like the perfect choice for Josef K. Unfortunately, director David Jones takes a very straightforward approach to the material and does not exploit the story’s nightmarish qualities. This is a version of Kafka that could easily play on Masterpiece Theater. (The perfect choice to direct The Trial would have been MacLachlan’s frequent director, David Lynch.) MacLachlan does well as Josef K. but he is overshadowed by a steady and distracting stream of cameos from actors like Anthony Hopkins, Alfred Molina, and David Thewlis.
Despite not being totally faithful to its source material, Orson Welles’s 1962 adaptation, which stars Anthony Perkins as Josef K., remains the version to see.