Friday’s, uh, Sunday’s Flicks

Your regularly scheduled Friday’ Flicks was postponed to Sunday eve so that we could bring you the following message: Breach is good. More on that later.

It’s about time. After nearly a month of limited and/or lame movie choices, this week offers up several worthwhile options in a variety of genres — everything from a family-friendly fantasy (which, by the way, co-stars Zooey Deschanel) to Andy Warhol at his scene-pillaging height to yet another installment of Cincinnati World Cinema’s annual Oscar shorts.

Opening films (click on grade to read review):

Breach: B+

Bridge to Terabithia: B

Daddy’s Little Girls: C+

Factory Girl: B

Ghost Rider: D

Music and Lyrics: D+

Oscar Shorts 2007: B-

Flick of the Week: Breach

After missing an advanced screening Tuesday due to shitty weather conditions, I caught a matinee of Breach today at Newport on the Levee, where an unexpectedly large crowd was clearly yearning for something of substance amid the schlock of recent weeks. (For the record, Breach finished a reported sixth ($10.4 million) in this weekend’s box-office race, well behind Nic Cage’s first-place Ghost Rider, which took in surprising $44.5 million.)

(Another side note: I finally saw the trailer for David Fincher’s Zodiac, which has been completely and oddly free of buzz despite a strong cast (Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Chloe Sevigny, Mark Ruffalo) and the cultish fan base of its director’s subversive, doom-infested back catalogue (Seven, Fight Club). Count me officially intrigued if concerned about its nearly three-hour running time.

The robust crowd wasn’t disappointed. Co-screenwriter/director Billy Ray follows up his tense journalistic thriller Broken Glass with another effective, emotionally nuanced true-life morality tale of a white-collar white guy running afoul. Breach tells the story of Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), a nondescript, devoutly religious F.B.I. veteran who successfully sold classified information to Russia for more than 20 years. Enter Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe), a young, ambitious would-be agent assigned as Hanssen’s clerk in order to get close to his boss and eventually bring him down.

Breach’s portrait of the outmoded, bureaucratically bloated F.B.I. is basically a pair of talking heads (with a pinch of Laura Linney as a terse, high-ranking agent who heads up the investigation against our embedded spy) in banal office buildings and muted suits. We also know Hanssen’s fate from the outset, often a killer for films of the “based on a true story” ilk. Yet like Ray’s similarly unnerving debut, Breach remains compelling throughout. We’re slowly, strangely fascinated by Hanssen, a purveyor of secrets and lies, a man whose life was far from what it seemed. Much of the credit goes to Cooper, who imbues Hanssen with just the right mix of malice and righteous indignation for what he sees as a bureau with its head up its ass.

— Jason Gargano

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