2007 - United States - 110 minutes
Writers - Adam Mazer, William Rotko, and Billy Ray
Director - Billy Ray
My Rating - 5 of 5 Stars
Last year we were treated to The Good Shepherd (reviewed in April of this year) - a superior film about the creation of the CIA. This year we are given an equally superior Breach about the greatest encroachment of the supposedly secure secrets of the activities of the United States government. As The Good Shepherd, Breach is a tour-de-force character study presented with an intelligent script, insightful directing, and extraordinary acting.
It is the true story of Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who had for years been selling secrets to the Soviet - and later - Russian government. His arrest was all over the news in early 2001, but it wasn't until much later that the news media began profiling a young, lower level FBI employee named Eric O'Neill who was instrumental in the arrest.
O'Neill had not yet gained the rank of agent when he was directed to become the assistant of Hanssen who had been given a new position in the bureau just months before his mandatory retirement - all of this so that O'Neill would be there to assist the investigators in their goal to bring Hanssen to justice. O'Neill was originally told that Hanssen was being investigated for some unwholesome sexual behavior, but he soon discovered that there was far more to his new boss than some sexy adventures on the Internet. Only after confronting his superior, is O'Neill told the true nature of his assignment. After that, we are treated to a cat and mouse game between the highly intelligent Hanssen and his equally intelligent and skillful opponent - O'Neill.
There is no standard FBI action in this film. It, instead, is an enthralling look at the cerebral actions of these two incredible men. It is a thrill to watch the sly, old fox being done in by the new kid on the block.
Two excellent actors show us these two men. Chris Cooper always gives a solid performance, and he is an intriguing pleasure to watch in this film as the complex genius, Robert Hanssen. It seems that Hanssen was one of those everyday good neighbors and family men who, below the surface, was a character almost beyond belief. Cooper expertly shows us both sides of that man. Ryan Phillippe shows us the inexperience and vulnerability of a young guy facing a nearly insurmountable challenge who uses all of his resources and intelligence in order to achieve a final victory. He is perfect as both innocent and guileful.
I would be remiss if I did not cite the performance of Laura Linney. I must admit that she is not one of my favorite actresses, but her portrayal of the woman in charge of the unit investigating and compiling information of the traitorous acts of Hanssen is a delight to behold. She offers us a woman who has given over her life to her profession. This sort of part usually doesn't carry much sympathy when played by a woman, but Linney brings forth nothing but compassion for this woman who has given all for the security of her country.
Breach is such a pleasure. You get to sit and watch superior performances of actors playing intriguing and complex characters - who happen to be real people. In addition, the DVD has several special features that serve as the perfect digestif after the meal.
June 17, 2007