Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Episode 44

Breach - Inspired by real events, Breach tells the story of a young FBI employee named Eric O'Niell (Ryan Phillippe) whose aim is to become a full-fledged agent. One day he finds himself pulled from is current assignment and is brought into a meeting with Agent Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney) who gives him a new set of instructions. Eric will now be going undercover within the FBI as the personal clerk of Agent Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper). Burroughs informs O'Niell that Hanssen has been engaging in activities on the internet that could embarrass the agency and that he is to make detailed notes about Hanssen's day to day activities. O'Niell, being the observant young man that he is, quickly realizes that there is something Agent Burroughs hasn't told him and confronts her about it, which is when he is let in on the real meaning of his new job. Hanssen is a spy who has been selling American secrets to the Russians for over a decade. O'Niell's profiling of Hanssen is meant to assist the FBI in catching him in the act of making an information drop so that they may prosecute him to the full extent of the law. However, as the agency gets closer to catching Hanssen in the act, he becomes more suspicious of O'Niell, and the safety of he and his family hangs in the balance. This is another film that I had little interest in seeing. The main drawback was that it looked like a slow, dull film. After seeing it I can confirm that the plot of Breach moves pretty slowly, but it manages to be just interesting enough to be worthwhile. As with most true stories, if the filmmakers want to stay true to the subject material, they can't go too wild about altering the events of the film. There are some instances in which this isn't necessarily true, as with the film Catch Me If You Can, which allows for plenty of indulgences in the script. With a story as serious and well-documented as that of Breach, though, there isn't a whole lot of leeway to add action or comedy to the story. This is a drawback to some films, but I will say that director Billy Ray managed to keep the events of the film moving at a decent pace by not bogging the plot down with any unnecessary details or side stories. In addition to the directing, the acting in a film as reserved and dramatic as this becomes even more important to making it watch-able. In this case, roping in Phillippe, Linney, and especially Chris Cooper as the main characters really paid off. I'm a big fan of Ryan Phillippe's work, so his presence made things run pretty smoothly for me. Linney is also a favorite of mine as she is not only nice to look at, but manages to pull off incredibly strong female roles which not many actresses are suited for. She always dominates whatever scene she's in and, while not necessarily typecast, tends to show up in roles that allow for her to play a powerful, in control character. Chris Cooper is really the one who steals the show here, though. The entirety of this project revolved around getting someone in the role of Robert Hanssen who the audience would at the same time despise and feel sorry for. Take a mere glance into Cooper's eyes in any scene in this movie, especially near the climax of the film, and you will see that he was the perfect choice. Rounding out the cast is Dennis Haysbert as the man in charge of the FBI's operation to bring down Hanssen. Overall I didn't find Breach to be one of the more impressive films that I've seen, but perhaps one of the more engrossing. This is probably because as I watched the story unfold I knew that what I was seeing actually took place.

The Constant Gardener - Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a low-level British diplomat, made one of the most spontaneous decisions of his life when he asked an activist named Tessa (Rachel Weisz) out on a date. Not long afterward they were married and as time went on Justin began to feel more and more distanced from his wife. Tessa, devoted more to any cause that could help people than to her own husband, was in Africa with a doctor and friend named Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Koundé) attempting to give aid to AIDS victims when she uncovered what she believed to be a conspiracy involving a large pharmaceutical company. After she begins snooping around, Justin learns that his wife has been raped and murdered. In the wake of a seemingly non-existant investigation, and ignoring the advice of friends and relatives, Justin decides to look into the matter on his own. In a quest that will span three continents, Justin learns more about the pharmaceutical company which Tessa had been pursuing and discovers a strange link between it and his own employers. As numerous people search for the thorn in their collective backside that is Justin Quayle, he draws closer and closer to discovering the circumstances surrounding his wife's death. The Constant Gardener, based upon a book by John le Carré, is yet another film that I hadn't fully intended to see. Having now watched it, I feel as though I would have been just as well passing it up. The Constant Gardener is a highly acclaimed film, but for what reason I am not quite sure. The direction wasn't bad, but neither was it inspired. It seemed as though the director was more concerned with making Africa appear hot than with showing the viewer the emotions of the characters. As far as the actors are concerned, Ralph Fiennes put in a decent performance, but the character of Justin Quayle was horribly uninteresting. Not only that, but I found it hard to believe that he would be capable of reacting the way he did in many situations. He is portrayed early on as a particularly dull, reserved character, but suddenly becomes a globe trotting adventurer after his wife's death. I'm not going to discount the fact that he was sparked into action by this event, but I still wasn't convinced that the character would have been capable of the things he achieved in the film. In the case of Rachel Weisz, I thought this was a terribly weak performance. She overacted just about every scene she was in and just felt generally miscast. Overall I found The Constant Gardener to be an uninteresting, boring film. This could have been remedied by a more surprising/stunning realization somewhere along the way, but when the mystery behind Tessa's death was finally revealed I was unimpressed. This is not my kind of movie, but perhaps if you like to have something on the television while you sleep, it will turn out to be yours.

Dark Blue - In South Central Los Angeles in 1992, two hoodlums steal a safe from a convenience store and murder four people in the process. Assigned to the case are LAPD SIS (Special Investigation Squad) officer Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell) and newcomer Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman). Eldon is a racist, sexist, seasoned veteran who knows the ropes (perhaps a little too well). Keough, partnered up with Perry, is the new guy to whom Eldon is passing on all of his bad habits such as bribery and the use of excessive force. Just coming off of an investigation after shooting a suspect, Eldon is willing to go to any lengths to bring down two local perps, whether or not they are the ones who actually committed the robbery. Meanwhile, in the wake of the Rodney King beating, Assistant Chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames) is threatening to take down Perry and all of the other cops like him who are almost no better than the criminals they bring into the station. Perhaps the only man in the department with the courage to stand up to the SIS, Holland has convinced fellow officer Beth Williamson (Michael Michelle) to enter into a relationship with Perry's partner Keough in order to obtain the evidence he needs to take Eldon down in his attempt to become the first African American police chief in the history of Los Angeles. In the wake of the death of yet another suspect at the hands of Perry and on the verge of Holland's final move to grab for the rank of chief, the four white police officers responsible for beating Rodney King are acquitted and the Rodney King Riots begin with Perry and Keough in the center of the fray looking for the real perpetrators of the armed robbery a few days prior. Dark Blue earns it's title by being a very dark, brooding film. It explores the depths of human insensitivity and anger while not once apologizing for itself. Kurt Russell's character in this film is one whom I love to hate. On one hand, it's Kurt Russell, who I adore onscreen, and on the other hand his character is an absolutely despicable person. I've got to hand it to Russell; he was incredible in this role. I'm used to him playing the hero or at least the anti-hero, but in Dark Blue he's as evil as you can get without having a secret lair inside an active volcano. He's a racist, a sexist, a corrupt cop, and just a downright bastard, yet there are moments during which you truly feel bad for him. In every situation he gets himself into his own messes, but Russell still forces you to care about him, if just a little bit. Scott Speedman is dwarfed next to Kurt. He does a decent job of pulling off the rookie cop, but being Russell's partner, they're almost always onscreen together. This results in Speedman being out-shined by Kurt at every turn. I could see someone like Ryan Phillippe or Leonardo DiCaprio handling this character more efficiently considering that I've seen both of them in similar roles. Ving Rhames was decent in Dark Blue, but his character felt a bit stale. I never got a real feeling of motivation out of him aside from just "that's what the script says". This is just another example of an instance in which I think better casting would have solved the problem. An interesting thing about Dark Blue is that while the Rodney King Riots are indeed an important part of the story, the film doesn't revolve around them. I very much enjoyed the way that news casts or small conversations about the riots were interwoven throughout the plot that hinted at what was to come. It allowed the riots to remain relevant while not overshadowing the purpose of the movie, which was the arc of Perry and Keough's characters. Everything taken into account, Dark Blue is a movie deserving of more praise than it gets, but is also not for everyone. You have to enjoy a good evil character arc to truly appreciate Dark Blue.

1 comment:

Ricky said...

I completely agree with your review of Breach. It's based on a true story that really should not have made an interesting movie, but it was done right.
Like you said, it held your intersest because the director chose not to show other less important events going on with the characters, like most movies in the genre. Instead he just focused on the cool and important stuff. Other movies based-on-true stories should take notes.