Saturday, February 24, 2007


Six years almost to the day of the actual events, "Breach" tells the story of the most infamous spy in American History and how he was eventually exposed and arrested. Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent of the highest order was eventually tried and convicted to a life sentence for selling secrets worth billions (not to mention a few lives lost as well) to the Russians. The film opens with footage of Robert Ashcroft's press conference about Hanssen's capture and then moves back in time to reveal how he was brought down.

Chris Cooper plays Robert Hanssen without a false note. Mr. Cooper is one of our finest character actors working today and "Breach" is one of his best performances. Playing the FBI "agent" that wins his trust but ultimately gets him caught is Ryan Phillippe, who continues to grow as an actor. His work in "Flags of Our Fathers" and now "Breach" show a new level of maturity on his part. Together they make "Breach" a great game of cat and mouse (even though you already know the outcome). Co-starring in this cerebral thriller is Laura Linney and Dennis Haysbert as the FBI agents building the case.

The film moves at a leisurely pace and is devoid of the usual spy movie "car chase" moments but there are still plenty of tense scenes. A taut script and solid acting makes "Breach" an exception to the usual Hollywood leftovers released this time of year.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Painted Veil

A worthwhile holdover from the holiday film season, "The Painted Veil" is the second filmed version of the novel by W. Somerset Maugham. The first was a 1934 version starring Greta Garbo as Kitty Fane and now we have the modern version starring Naomi Watts as Kitty and Edward Norton as her husband, Dr. Walter Fane. I'm sure Garbo was wonderful and I will seek out the original version now for a comparison. But for now, I can report that Watts and Norton are just terrific together.

The story takes place in 1925. Norton is a infectious disease doctor living in China. He quickly meets and marries Watts, a society girl in London looking to escape her family life and brings her back to live with him in Shanghai. When an outbreak of cholera is reported in a remote Chinese village, Norton volunteers to go help the locals.

The story follows a journey of discovery for these two souls and the chemistry between them is wonderful. Ms. Watts has the more difficult role as her character moves through various life changing experiences but Mr. Norton, excellent as always, completely inhabits his character and plays beautifully against her. Liv Schreiber, Toby Jones, and Diana Rigg co-star.

The exotic setting, with it's beautiful rivers and mountains, danger of cholera exposure, tension between the British and Chinese, along with fine acting by the entire cast, keep you absorbed throughout the film. It is a terrific adult drama that is a refreshing alternative to "Norbert" and "Hannibal" and the rest of the Hollywood winter waste out there.