Thursday, July 12, 2007


Billy Ray | 2007 | 110 min | US

Breach is based on the true events leading up to the February 2001 arrest of Robert Hanssen, a 25 year veteran of the FBI who was convicted of spying for the Russian government. The story begins as young agent-hopeful Eric O'Neill is assigned as Hanssen's new assistant so that he may gather information on the minutiae of his every action. As the FBI puts the pressure on to make a case against Hanssen prior to his retirement, O'Neill begins to feel the strain on his career, his marriage, + his respect for Hanssen.

This is a terrific spy movie because it plays out exactly as most real world spy thrillers would: slowly + methodically. Even the film's car chase is slow to the point of standing still. A great deal of that chase takes place in a traffic jam + it is resolved by the convincing delivery of a few lies rather than gun play. The tension comes from that pacing + the knowledge that nothing in reality can be resolved by simply shooting the 'bad guys' in their matching crime syndicate jumpsuits.

Certainly many of the events are amped up for dramatic effect, but 'true' or not, that's what a film should do, right? Right. The drama is taut throughout + Ray is great at pulling off scenes like the get-the-computer -files-while-the-boss-is-in- the-other-room routine in a way that is tense despite being a familiar set-up.

The movie chooses a great cast of recognizable character actors for the leads: Laura Linney, Caroline Dhavernas, Gary Cole, Kathleen Quinlan, + more. Chris Cooper + Ryan Phillippe head the cast as the mentor + protege. While everyone does great turns (yes, even Phillippe), it is Cooper who really stands out. His portrayal of Hanssen is not that of a particularly kind or caring man, but he makes him incredibly sympathetic as a man trying to secure his legacy in a massive faceless bureaucracy as he approaches old age. It is not difficult to relate to Hanssen's struggle. When the time comes that he is arrested for his crimes, it is unexpectedly moving.

Breach also continues my recent luck of catching movies with fantastic scores. This one is done by Canadian Mychael Danna, who also composed great music for Capote, The Ice Storm, + several Egoyan films.

This is another film that deserved a lot more attention than it received. The studio did little to support Breach despite its quality. Cooper's performance is every bit as good as the work in Adaptation which won him an Oscar. Stupid jerk idiot studios.

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