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A secretive man: Cooper in Breach.

The Most Dangerous Game

By Shawn Stone


Directed by Billy Ray

When the story broke in early 2001 that the most damaging-to-national-security spy in U.S. history had been caught, the details were so mind-boggling as not to be believed. The spy, Robert Hanssen, was an FBI agent, and the bureau’s former head man on all matters related to the Soviet Union. He was an old-school Catholic with some very kinky habits. He was also known for his weird sense of humor; Hanssen sometimes contacted his Soviet handlers through messages in the classified ads, like “1971 Dodge Diplomat. Needs work.”

If the humor is missing from Breach, the taut, claustrophobic thriller about the FBI’s attempts to catch Hanssen, maybe it’s because the film zeroes in on the last weeks before his capture. And maybe it’s because the film is as much about the buttoned-down, paranoid culture of the FBI itself as it is about the agent who did it so much damage.

We get to know Hanssen (a reliably intense, self-possessed Chris Cooper) through Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe), the FBI newbie sent to spy on him. O’Neill is told only that Hanssen has an Internet sex problem that needs to be investigated; otherwise, he’s to be Hanssen’s “clerk,” which is FBI-speak for secretary, driver and all-around errand boy.

It’s fun to watch O’Neill try to figure his boss out. Hanssen is such a deeply controlled, messed-up person that the clerk comes to believe that not only is his boss everything he seems—family man, devout Christian, dedicated patriot—he believes Hanssen is a victim of FBI politics.

Agent Burroughs (Laura Linney, cool and professional) disabuses him of this notion. She then mentors O’Neill through the tense few weeks before Hanssen is caught, when the action is transformed into a cat-and-mouse game between the increasingly unstable, paranoid agent and the more-wily-than-expected clerk.

The film paints an unappealing portrait of the FBI culture—the sterile FBI headquarters, with its beige-bland hallways and combination lock office doors, is chilling—and the effect it has on agents’ personal lives. When O’Neill asks Burroughs how to keep his marriage intact while continuing his undercover work, she says: “Don’t ask me. I don’t even have a cat.”

Director Billy Ray, who also made Shattered Glass, another fascinating film about a compulsive liar, has a gift for casting. In Shattered Glass, he memorably featured Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson in brief roles as competing reporters; in Breach, veteran performers Dennis Haysbert (as a stern FBI honcho), Kathleen Quinlan (as Hanssen’s sanctimonious wife) and Bruce Davison (as O’Neill’s quietly demanding father) all have small-but-significant parts.

But it’s Cooper, Phillippe and Linney who make the film work. Each of their characters is “acting,” at some point or other—Hanssen is “on” all the time—and these real actors bring that out beautifully. And, in the case of Cooper/Hanssen, chillingly.

I’ll Be Your Mirror

Factory Girl

Directed by George Hickenlooper

The best—well, rather, let’s say the most entertaining—judgments of Factory Girl have already been pronounced: No less eminent a figure than musician Lou Reed has excoriated the film as the work of “an illiterate retard,” and Bob Dylan is said to have considered legal action against the filmmakers for their portrayals of certain characters and relationships in this thinly fictionalized biopic of model-actress-heiress Edie Sedgwick.

The fact that these two icons are so worked up is, perhaps, the most interesting aspect of the film, otherwise a pretty slight work. The film follows Edie (Sienna Miller) from 1964, when she leaves Cambridge Art School in Massachusetts for New York City, to her death in 1971. The bulk of the movie focuses on the time spent in Manhattan as a member of artist Andy Warhol’s entourage, the group of wanna-be artists, actors and celebrities who operated out of Warhol’s loft studio, the Factory. In this milieu, Edie, at first, shines. Warhol (Guy Pearce) is captivated by her gamine beauty, her idiosyncratic style and her family’s social prominence and enormous wealth (Edie was a descendant of one of the original settlers of New Amsterdam, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, and a president of the Southern Pacific Railroad). She becomes his first superstar.

Unfortunately, Edie’s more immediate family has a legacy, as well: one of emotional and sexual abuse and the habit of using compulsory confinement in mental institutions as time-outs. She is, from the start, doomed. It’s a tragedy we’ve seen before. What makes this story different—and possibly actionable—is the depiction of Edie’s chosen champions, Warhol and “Billy Quinn” (Hayden Christensen), a folksinger who seems so, so familiar. The two are, in a word, horrible. In more words: One is a coldblooded and fickle opportunist, the other an arrogant and disloyal narcissist. They are posed as ostensible opposites, with Warhol the fey, cosmopolitan aesthete and Quinn the virile, populist artist.

Utter bullshit, of course. As Edie points out in one scene, there’s not so much difference between the two. They are, first and foremost, famous people; the differences of style of dress or drug of choice are incidental in this movie. Warhol and Quinn make a kind of yin-yang model of American celebrity, and it’s amusing that their real-life inspirations—or their posthumous defenders—are so riled at being equated with the other, each exploitive and self-absorbed.

Miller does a fair job capturing Edie’s manic desperation, and Pearce’s depiction of Warhol is the ugliest version of the artist I’ve seen (which I mean as a compliment). Christensen is perhaps insufficiently vicious—not to mention a bit too dreamy—as Dylan, er, Quinn, but he’s serviceable. In fact, the actors do a commendable job presenting the fairly loathsome side of celebrity. Still, the filmmakers can’t resist glamorizing the Factory scene, which shifts the attention from the corruption of celebrity to the timeworn “lost little rich girl” motif, and undercuts some surprisingly and entertainingly unsentimental characterizations.

—John Rodat

Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go

Music and Lyrics

Directed by Marc Lawrence

The opening to Music and Lyrics is an amusing, and sweetly nostalgic, video spoof of those sexy-silly, contagiously catchy ’80s pop bands. Mostly modeled on Wham!, the mock video is more memorable than the movie it’s in. It’s also the setup for the plot: Hugh Grant plays a preening multi-instrumentalist (and effortlessly passes for being 25 years younger). But his character isn’t George Michael. He’s the other guy, the one nobody remembers.

One of several appealing conceits in Music and Lyrics is that Grant’s has-been pop star, Alex Fletcher (a more confident version of Grant’s wittily dithery romantic persona) isn’t the least bit bitter about being relegated to the where-are-they-now circuit. He makes good money, women scream for his every hip-thrust, and he’s not under any pressure to compose a hit single. As he tells his angsty plant lady: “I have amazing insight. I would use it on myself, if I had any problems.”

Yes, Alex’s coddled lifestyle includes a “plant lady” who makes house calls. That’s how he meets Sophie (Drew Barrymore), a plant-lady temp. Sophie is a talkative, quirky klutz, and as such is recognizably the creation—or more accurately, confection—of writer-director Marc Lawrence, who scripted the Miss Congeniality movies. Even for this sponge cake of a comedy, Sophie is overly squishy, a walking compendium of ticks, insecurities, and eccentricities. And though Barrymore is definitively adept at playing adorable, and utilizes an entire repertoire of mugging to compensate for Sophie’s lack of substance, she’s kind of a drip, at least compared to the drolly irrepressible Alex. But because Lawrence traffics heavily in wish fulfillment, Alex’s interest is piqued when he notices that Sophie can spout a rhyme at the drop of mist bottle.

And just in time, because Alex needs a lyricist in order to compete for a chance to compose a song for—and perform with—teen pop sensation Cora Corman (scene-stealing newbie Haley Bennett). Like real-life pop tarts, Cora rifles the ’80s hits of her childhood; the parody comes from the trendy Eastern spirituality she uses to wrap her stripper-like gyrations in a sari of sincerity (think Britney crossed with Jewel). What makes the character a standout is how her Zen affectations cloak the concentration of a ruthless baby mogul.

The other attention-getter is Campbell Scott, in a brief part as Sophie’s former boyfriend and mentor, a pretentious literary lion whose hold over her provides the oh-so-convenient obstacle to her personal and professional happiness. He also provides the movie’s pithiest scene by one-upping Alex in social smackdown between academic elitism and faded pop fame. Music and Lyrics is less engaging when it focuses solely on Sophie and Alex, as it must if they are to compose a song together, but Lawrence’s predictability is made tolerable by a smattering of funny lines and situations—along with a cleverly augmented replay of that amusing mock video.

—Ann Morrow

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