Review by: Larry Thomas
Tales of espionage and governmental skullduggery have been movie plot staples
since the early silent days. It's hard to resist a good yarn of spies and
adventure... witness the success of the James Bond series over the past 45
years. But what of the tales of the real-life agents who work undercover and in
the shadows for whatever motivates them to betray their country. Do these perpetrators
of espionage do it for the money... or idealism... or just to prove they
are smarter than their peers?
That is the thrust of the new film Breach, about FBI agent Robert Hanssen who
was brought down in 1991 as being probably the most damaging agent the Russians
ever had in America, costing the US millions of dollars, countless government
secrets, and the lives of several agents on the other side. This is a character
study. There are no gunfights, car chases, or any other Bondian trappings. Breach
is about the inner workings of a brilliant computer expert, and how the agency
uncovered his covert operations within the FBI.
Oscar-winner Chris Cooper is brilliant as Hanssen. His portrayal of a loving
family man who is great at his job and is devoutly religious, but at the same
time hides dark secrets involving kinky sex and selling classified documents
to the Russians, is complex and compelling. Both the character and the performance
are deeply disturbing, and his final scene is shattering. If it were not a year
away from next year's awards, Chris Cooper would be a major candidate
for the Best Actor Oscar.
And he's given excellent support in Breach. The always-wonderful Laura
Linney is the agent in charge of the operation to expose Hanssen. She's
just as hard and as driven in her pursuit, but also shows more of a human side.
Dennis Haysbert, formerly of TV's 24 and a series of auto insurance commercials,
has a small role as an agent, but does fine with what he's given.
The real surprise is Ryan Phillippe, who before has never made much of an impression
as an actor. He's improving greatly as the trainee who desperately wants
to become an agent. He's given his chance when he's assigned to
be Hanssen's assistant, with the intent of getting the goods on the target.
At first he seems wimpy and unconvincing, just as the character should be. But
as the story progresses, and his character becomes more involved in, and troubled
about, the entire situation, Phillippe really begins to come alive.
This is only the second directorial assignment for Billy Ray, screenwriter
of Flight Plan. He handles the progression of the story in a straightforward
manner with no gimmicks, and makes it suspenseful, even though the outcome is
a fait-accompli. The film is given a harsh, sometimes claustrophobic look by
wizard cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, which befits the mood.
In these days of bad comedies and worse horror films being released on an almost
weekly basis, it's refreshing to see an intelligent, believable film rooted
in character and dialogue that comes from a major studio.
Breach is currently lurking in the shadows of a plex near you.