Saturday, March 09, 2013

Breach and Mr Nobbs

Last night we watched a movie, Breach, which I felt I'd seen before, yet I didn't have any memory of how it panned out, or even of Ryan Phillipe in the main role.  Yet in an early scene, when Phillipe meets up with Chris Cooper (at his snake-eyes best) I was sure I'd seen it some other time, and there were scattered moments throughout that seemed familiar.  Perhaps it had been on TV somewhere, and I'd caught it out of the corner of my eye while I was supposed to be paying attention to something - or someone - else.

Anyway, it's a well-cast piece (the impecable Laura Linney is in it too) and though it might occasionally be felt to be just a little too slow for a thriller, it certainly has some suspenseful moments.  Taken at its own slightly curious pace, and with the cast all in top form, this is worth watching.  It's based on the true story of the uncovering of one of the US's top spies: Robert Hanssen.  While working for the FBI, he was systematically giving away the country's secrets to the Russians.  Cooper plays a man full of religious hypocrisy, mistrustful of everything that might be slightly out of kilter, and bullying in his treatment of his subordinate (Phillipe).  Phillipe is the new boy on the block who helps the old-timers in their task of bringing Hanssen to justice.  While playing the part of a clumsy, unintelligent youngster - for Hanssen's sake - he's actually having to deal with the razor-sharp mind of his superior, keeping him at bay whenever he's suspicious of anything in his very ordered world.

Another slightly slow movie - intentionally so - is Albert Nobbs.  The title role is played by Glenn Close; it's an extraordinary achievement.  The role was obviously close to her heart, since she was also involved in the script and production.  Albert Nobbs is a woman making her living as a male waiter in an Irish hotel run by an arrogant and devious woman (Pauline Collins) who claims to treat her staff well but is in fact mostly unaware of the reality of their daily lives.  She's certainly unaware - as are the rest of the staff - that Nobbs is actually a woman, and Nobbs intends to keep it that way.  As an orphaned teenager she dressed up as a man to take on a temporary job, and then found that it was economically sound to remain a 'man.'

We know from the beginning that Nobbs is a woman, of course, since we know that Close is playing her.  However, there's a wonderful moment quite early in the piece when a broad-shouldered, tall and lanky male housepainter also turns out to be a woman; she's the widow of a man who abused her until he died and she's also found it worthwhile maintaining the pretence.  These two form a friendship - Nobbs can finally talk to someone who understands - but there are other complications which I won't reveal here. 

Close is surrounded by a mostly British cast (some of whom are Irish, but the majority English) and her Cockney accent works well.  Her tight little face, her movements, her submissive approach all combine to create a wonderfully sympathetic character - it's necessary that we're sympathetic in the light of her attempts later in the film to form a relationship with one of the younger maids (Mia Wasikowska) in the hotel. 

It's a small-scale film, but one that was worth making.  



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