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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Thriller > Drama > Comedy > Art > Counterculture > Breach/Zodiac/Number 23/Factory Girl/Music & Lyrics (Theatrical Film Reviews)

The following are capsule reviews of some films I've seen in recent weeks, including two superb true-crime stories with the potential to rank among my best-10 of 2007.


Reviews by Chuck O'Leary


Breach - Set during the first two months of 2001, this is the gripping true story of how the FBI used one of its young surveillance operatives, Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe), to help catch a traitor within its own agency, FBI veteran Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper).  The Hanssen we observe in the film is an absolutely fascinating two-faced villain.  On the outside, he's an uptight prig and devout Catholic who regularly attends mass and preaches the values of God and country.  But as O’Neill would discover, Hanssen was a walking contradiction who secretly liked making home sex videos, and worse, had been selling valuable American intelligence secrets to the Russians for years.  Even though many of us already know the outcome of this story, co-writer-director Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) is still able to maintain considerable suspense throughout as O'Neill attempts to gain Hanssen's trust through their mutual Catholic background, while trying to obtain incriminating evidence without his surly, egotistical new boss becoming wise.  Breach follows The Good Shepherd as the second outstanding spy-thriller to be released by Universal Pictures within the last two months.  Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd was terrific.  Breach is even better, and is the kind of great film that seldom gets released this early in the year.  Rating: 9 out of 10.


Zodiac - This is the second film to get released in the last 12 months about the never-solved Zodiac killings that terrorized the San Francisco Bay area in the late '60s and early '70s.  Last year's film version, called The Zodiac, was a low-budget production that got a 10-screen theatrical release last March 17.  It's a decent movie, but limits its scope to one fictional small-town cop's investigation into the killings.  David Fincher's Zodiac is the more ambitious, thorough and better of the two.  Based on Robert Graysmith's novel, Fincher's film is a captivating 157-minute case history that divides its time between three men closely associated with the investigation, SFPD detective, Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo); doped-up San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.); and Graysmith himself (Jake Gyllenhaal), a Chronicle cartoonist who remained obsessed with the case long after it left the headlines.  Zodiac fascinates in its attention to detail, and convincingly recreates an era when crime fighting techniques were a lot more primitive than they are today.  The film's only shortcoming is failing to show the effect these senseless murders had on any of the victim's families.  Otherwise, it's an engrossing real-life mystery that makes a plausible hypothesis about the identity of the elusive Zodiac killer.  Let's just say, you may never think of your helpful hardware man from Ace the same way again.  The one thing this and last year's Zodiac movie have in common is character actor Philip Baker Hall, who appears in both.

Rating: 8 out of 10.


The Number 23 - Most bad movies are just plain boring, but occasionally one will come along that's so outrageous in its badness that it ends up having some degree of entertainment value. Joel Schumacher's laughable would-be thriller, The Number 23, is such a film.  Not yet getting the hint that audiences don't want to see him in serious roles, Jim Carrey plays a dog catcher whose wife (Virginia Madsen) introduces him to an obscure book about characters obsessed with the number 23.  Carrey's character then himself becomes completely obsessed with the number, believing that he and the book's characters are somehow interconnected.  It's obvious Carrey's character belongs in a rubber room from the very beginning, and, after 13 years together, didn't his wife ever get around to asking him, "So what were you doing that day I met you out in front of the mental hospital?"  We can only hope a sequel called The Number 46 doesn't get made. Rating: 4 out of 10.


Factory Girl - Not great, but better than many of the reviews it's gotten, this is the tragic story of artist/actress Edie Sedgwick, and how her involvement with Andy Warhol's avant-garde freak show known as The Factory led to her self-destruction.  Sedgwick's all-too-common story of drug-addiction hastening the downfall of a young starlet is nothing new.  However, the film is most interesting in its portrayal of Warhol as a cold-hearted user.  Sienna Miller proves she's more than just another pretty face with her strong portrayal of Sedgwick, and it took me a while to even recognize that it is Guy Pearce playing Warhol.  The film's fictional folk singer named Billy Quinn (played by Hayden Christensen) with whom Sedgwick becomes involved is obviously supposed to be Bob Dylan.  Factory Girl is a sad story of a life ruined by child abuse and hedonistic excess.  Rating: 7 out of 10


Music & Lyrics - An amiable romantic-comedy starring Hugh Grant as a washed-up '80s pop singer who gets a second chance when he's hired by a current pop female superstar to write her a song.  Drew Barrymore plays a young woman not in show business who becomes his unlikely songwriting partner.  The film opens with the amusing recreation of a mid-1980s music video of a deliriously cheesy pop song called "Pop! Goes My Heart."  The song is a lot of fun, but ends up being the only memorable thing in a middling rom-com that needed a wittier script.  Rating: 5 out of 10.


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