Opening 18 Oct 2007
This docu-drama is based on a true story about an American spy in the FBI and a breach in U.S. security. Young FBI agent Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillipe) takes on the job of aide to his colleague Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper). O’Neill has orders from his boss Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney) to observe Hanssen in order to bring him down for espionage. He is suspected of selling U.S. military secrets to the Soviet Union, but Hanssen has always appeared innocent throughout 23 years of service. He comes across as a devout Catholic who spends much time in church and says, “Godlessness is why Russia failed.” On February 18, 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the arrest of Hanssen, who is presently sitting in solitary confinement for life in a Colorado prison.
This film with its psychological cat-and-mouse plot has difficulties maintaining any kind of interest-holding tension. There are feeble attempts, e.g., O’Neill becomes discouraged and must be bolstered by his boss, he can’t confide in his wife who suspects infidelity, or he and Hanssen are caught in a traffic jam. The actors are unconvincing, especially Caroline Dhavernas who plays O’Neill’s East German wife. It would probably be more interesting to read any of the books written about this “worst spy in American history,” who earned approximately $1.5 million from Russia over 15 years. By director Billy Ray. (Becky Tan)
In an era of action-packed spy films like The Bourne Ultimatum, viewer expectations for Breach may be a bit out-of-kilter. Breach is a methodical film with no chase scenes or martial arts-style fights, but it is a thriller nonetheless. Chris Cooper is excellent as Robert Hanssen, convincingly portraying him as a frustrated spy and conservative Catholic whose treachery is both unbelievable and plausible. We see Hanssen through the eyes of agent O'Neill and understand how Hanssen could have fooled the FBI, as well as his close friends and colleagues, for such a long time. The film does start a bit slow (keeping to the true story as much as possible may have limited director Billy Ray's storytelling options), but it is well-worth sticking it out to experience the capture of the U.S.'s most notorious spy. (Kirsten Greco)