reviewed by Andrew James
Breach takes places at the turn of the millenium just as George W. Bush was taking office. The intelligence community at the time had a spy in the house and they knew it. They even knew who it was. They just couldn't prove it. Chris Cooper plays said spy, Robert Hanssen. Ryan Phillippe plays Eric O'Neill; the young recruit just trying to make agent status. His big break comes when he is assigned as Robert's personal clerk to get as much information as possible and gather intel and evidence that can link Hanssen to espionage crimes.
Employed in the film are several of the typical, nail biting moments used in most films in which we're afraid our hero will be compromised or caught with his pants down. We know at the last minute he'll figure out something clever to escape detection or being found out, so it's just not all that intense.
What kept my interest through most of the movie is the above average acting ability by all involved. Phillippe is convincing as an intelligent, young man forced into a role well above his pay grade. Laura Linney is terrific as always. But the real stand out is Chris Cooper. His ability to truly scare us into almost believing his character is not a creepy, disdainful and deceitful guy is a stroke of pure talent matched only by a very few souls in Hollywood.
The directing is about as "by-the-book" as you can get. Nothing terribly interesting or artsy about any of it. The director's job in this case is to focus the camera on our characters and leave it at that. Fortunately, that tactic works well for this type of movie; which is basically a real life Tom Clancy novel.
Besides the political interest of the film, there are the sub-plots involving O'Neill's wife and her growing anxiety over Eric's job and all the secrets he is forced to keep from her. Not to mention the religious implications forced upon her and Eric by Hannsen, who although is a sexual deviant and a traitor to his country, is also a devout, bordering on obsessive, catholic. Although necessary for us to help understand the characters and bring depth to the story, there is nothing terribly interesting or impactful about any of these side stories.
As I mentioned before, since we know how it will end (even if you're not familiar with the story, it is told to us in the first minute of film), there is really very little to expect and the film ends fairly anti-climactically. No big chase scene or stake-out. Those types of scenes are left as bread crumbs throughout the rest of the film that lead us to this fairly ho-hum of an ending.
So although not a "rush out and see it now" type of movie, it is a good weekday night rental that's interesting enough to keep you intrigued, while Chris Cooper is eerily captivating as not only the most damaging spy in U.S. history, but also likely the smartest guy anyone is ever likely to meet. Luckily he is on screen with dialogue about 90% of the time, so your time will be well spent. If nothing else, it's a bit of a history lesson that I for one was unaware of until now. ...and knowing is half the battle.
right-click HERE for Andrew's audio review (8 minutes - 3.2MB)
IMDb.com - full cast and crew
FLIXSTER PROFILE for Breach