Directed by: Billy Ray
Premise: True story of FBI analyst Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), a double agent who shared American intelligence with Russia and did billions of dollars of damage to the United States. The film follows a low level FBI agent in training (Ryan Phillippe) assigned to penetrate Hanssen’s life and catch him in the act.
What Works: Breach is a tight, well-executed thriller that delves into the world of the FBI and espionage without drowning in exposition. The performances are strong, especially by Chris Cooper as Robert Hanssen. The screenplay and Cooper’s performance carefully craft Hanssen’s characterization, starting him as a cold and crass personality but slowly pulling back the layers of his complex humanity, revealing a tortured soul underneath. Phillippe also does an admirable job as his character interacts with Hanssen, trying to uncover what is beneath while maintaining his cover. The relationship between the two characters is very interesting as they develop emotional bonds that eventually must be broken if the case is to be solved. This makes the chase much more engaging and adds some substance to the cost of apprehending Hanssen.
What Doesn’t: If anything is underwhelming in the film, it is the actual apprehension of Hanssen. The film demonstrates that this was the largest internal investigation in the history of the FBI, but the film avoids much of the case that was built around Hanssen and opts instead for a character study. At the same time, the film hints at Hanssen’s motives for treason but it does not come to any solid conclusions about why.
Bottom Line: Breach is an enjoyable thriller, and one that has some substance to its mystery and espionage plot. Cooper’s amazing performance raises this film above some of the faults of its storytelling and makes Breach one of the first great films of this year.
Episode: #133 (March 18, 2007)