Breach

2007, Movie, PG-13, 110 mins

Review

BREACH
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Billy Ray's anti-thriller is based on the real-life case of Robert Hanssen, a career FBI agent of rigorous intelligence, piercing — if tactless — integrity and deep religious convictions who systematically sold intelligence to Russian spymasters.
Ambitious FBI trainee Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe) thinks he's one step closer to becoming an agent when steely Kate Borroughs (Laura Linney) recruits him for a secret assignment. But the job is disappointingly seamy: Posing as a lowly office clerk, O'Neill will be spying on counterintelligence officer Hanssen (Chris Cooper), whose secret life — consorting with strippers, frequenting online porn sites and the like — has the potential to embarrass the Bureau. O'Neill nevertheless dutifully snoops and reports, keeping long hours and enduring snide criticism, demeaning assignments and constant sneaky tests of loyalty. O'Neill's German-born wife, Juliana (Caroline Dhavernas), resents being kept in the dark and grows uncomfortable with his assignment — whatever it is — especially when it starts to include socializing with Hanssen and his devout, devoted wife, Bonnie (Kathleen Quinlan). And O'Neill finds nothing: Increasingly puzzled as to why he's been sicced on a dedicated, God-fearing man whose worst flaws seem to be perfectionism, ruthless honesty and contempt for politics, O'Neill finally forces Burroughs to let him in on the operation behind the operation. Hanssen is a perv, but he's also a turncoat directly responsible for the murder of at least three informants. The Bureau's source of information is impeccable but dirty, and if they want to see Hanssen punished, they have to catch him red-handed.
Like Robert De Niro's THE GOOD SHEPHERD (2006) and the novels of John Le Carre, Ray's film proceeds from the proposition that espionage is routine and duller than certified public accounting; Hanssen's story unfolds against a backdrop of dreary offices and anonymous hallways, and the action leans heavily toward reading files, hooking up computers and dealing with self-interested bureaucrats. But Cooper's seething portrayal of Hanssen as a vain, thin-skinned bully who's become so good at outfoxing foxes that he turns on the henhouse would be just as vivid amid whizzing bullets and exotic mata haris. Phillippe has the unenviable task of trying to make O'Neill equally interesting, but an eager beaver with some unresolved family issues is no match for a poisoned soul methodically laying the groundwork for his own inevitable fall. The unfortunate imbalance makes long stretches of the film feel dull, but when Cooper is on screen it's mesmerizing. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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