Friday, August 01, 2008

past popcorn-free experiences: breach, exotica

At the end of Breach, I saw it as The Ipcress File stripped of its humour and genre-spoofing, but with an extra helping of the mundaneness of espionage that went by on display in first half. It's a sweeping generalisation, of course. Yet, the calm patient narrative in Billy Ray's film manages to deliver a sense of tension while remaining primarily a drama whose outcome we are aware of simply because the film is based on true events: the arrest of Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who was a spy for the Soviet Union. Without doubt, the film belongs to Chris Cooper's performance as Robert Hanssen, although our protagonist is Eric O'Neill, an FBI operative working undercover to snag evidence to bring Hanssen in, played by Ryan Philippe, who, despite turning in a competent performance, doesn't quite offer a convincing nemesis for Cooper's Hanssen. Hanssen was an interesting character (a devoted religious family man with a penchant for making amateur porn films and selling his nation's secrets to the enemy) and Cooper's performance draws you in. It, however, isn't enough for a film that is perhaps a tad too restrained, a mite too under-stated and rather "under-exciting." Cooper's performance offers a compelling reason to watch the film but also sets it a really tall order to live up to.

Atom Egoyan's Exotica uses a nightclub as a focal point in a film about characters very different and uniquely strange and yet very believable. Aided by strong performances and a wonderful sense of design, Egoyan uses a non-linear odyssey into a world of intimacy, aloofness, desire (or the lack thereof) and cold business. Mychael Danna's tapestry of Middle Eastern and Asian influences lends the film an appropriate aural texture as do the songs (listen carefully and you'll hear tumhe.n yaad karate karate). Lives and hearts seek ways to communicate in a claustrophobic world that encompasses the restricted carnal pleasures in the densely atmospheric strip club that gives the film its name and the cramped bustle of the exotic pet shop whose owner smuggles rare bird eggs into the country. There's no way I can forget Leonard Cohen's voice singing Everybody Knows after this.

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