a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Breach in Breach

As with Keanu Reeves, Andie Macdowell and the version of Mark Wahlberg that’s straight and boring, a lot of seemingly intelligent filmmakers have an unhealthy affinity for Ryan Phillippe. I like Billy Ray’s approach to docudrama. In both this and Shattered Glass, he combines an unmistakable intelligence with a willingness to find empathy in real people not worthy of them. But he cast Phillippe as his lead, and the movie, by and large, just goes down with him. I don’t mean that as a glib joke. Phillippe literally opens up a conceptual black hole in the movie. Chris Cooper’s Robert Hanssen – the FBI agent who sold secrets to the Soviet Union for some 25 years – is built up time and again as the slyest crony on the block, capable of shaking down the best of Soviet spies and generally impossible to, um, breach. The film finds him fooled into trusting Phillippe’s newbie Eric O’Neill, essentially making Phillippe an actor playing an actor. And since Phillippe can’t act his way out of a plastic bag, neither can O’Neill, lending a surreality to Hanssen’s downfall. He can hang with Soviet spies but he can’t catch a guy who can’t even sell a line? Hanssen’s a fascinating enough subject to keep Breach worthwhile, and Ray even works a thoughtful dissection on the meaning of trust: the film manages to express Hanssen’s pain over being deceived without making him into some fallen hero. It even manages to deal with his hardcore, nutty Opus Dei faith without resorting to easy yuks. But despite the top billing, the movie belongs not to Cooper but to Phillippe, and Phillippe fails at even playing the bland eye at the center of the much more showy storm. B-



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