The Films of Billy Ray
Breach (November 5/09)
Despite the inherently thrillerish nature of its setup, Breach ultimately comes off as a slow-paced character study that benefits substantially from Chris Cooper's downright astounding performance - as the actor's consistently spellbinding work proves instrumental at sustaining the viewer's interest even through the film's more overtly deliberate stretches. Based on true events, the movie follows FBI computer specialist Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe) as he reluctantly agrees to become Robert Hanssen's (Cooper) right-hand man in an effort at producing hard evidence against the suspected spy. It's clear right off the bat that filmmaker Billy Ray is going for an atmosphere of almost aggressive authenticity, as the movie primarily boasts the feel of an officially-sanctioned docudrama - which consequently (and effectively) drains the narrative of its anticipated thrills on an all-too-frequent basis. There's little doubt, however, that the palpable chemistry between O'Neill and Hanssen generally compensates for the film's less-than-enthralling vibe, and though it's impossible to deny the effectiveness of Phillippe's affecting turn, Cooper's fascinating, unexpectedly layered work ensures that his character remains the focus of the viewer's admittedly indifferent attention virtually from start to finish. The proliferation of such positive attributes inevitably prevents Breach from coming off as just a glorified movie-of-the-week, yet it's hard not to feel a little disappointment at the film's relative failure given the undeniably electrifying subject matter.
Secret In Their Eyes (November 17/15)
Based on a 2009 Argentinean movie of the same name, Secret In Their Eyes follows Chiwetel Ejiofor's Ray as he doggedly attempts to solve a case involving the dead daughter of a fellow cop (Julia Roberts' Jess) - with the film detailing Ray's current-day endeavors as well as his initial efforts at solving the crime more than a decade ago. Filmmaker Billy Ray, working from his own screenplay, launches immediately into the time-shifting narrative with little in the way of context or explanation, with the strength of both the premise and the performances going a long way towards initially cultivating an engrossing atmosphere. It's clear that this vibe is heightened and perpetuated by the periodic inclusion of electrifying sequences (eg the discovery of the aforementioned body) and a smattering of top-tier performances, with, in terms of the latter, Ejiofor's typically commanding turn as the beleaguered protagonist playing a key role in confirming the movie's early success. (This is to say nothing of Roberts' impressively subdued and far-from-showy performance here.) Secret In Their Eyes does, however, suffer from a midsection that far-too-often resembles a television-style police procedural, as Ray stresses Ejiofor's character's fairly standard investigation to an occasionally oppressive degree - with much of the second act following a repetitive structure of Ray discovering a clue, chasing it down, discovering another clue, etc, etc. (It doesn't help, either, that Ray's script contains a rather needless romantic subplot between Ejiofor's Ray and Nicole Kidman's Claire.) Such concerns prove to be moot in the face of Secret In Their Eyes' absolutely enthralling final stretch, with the effectiveness of this portion of the proceedings heightened by a twist ending that's nothing short of jaw-dropping - which ultimately cements the movie's place as another strong effort from noted screenwriter Ray.