Reviewed on 2008 February 4
It’s always the quiet ones you should watch out for. It would be the shock of a lifetime to learn that your plodding, dull boss — the guy who invited you into his home, with a family that looked like it could have sprung from a sappy Thomas Kinkaid painting and a charming wife offering slices of home-made chocolate cake — is an F.B.I. rat selling government secrets. What’s really disconcerting is that this is based on a true story.
Eric O’Neill (Ryan Philippe) is an F.B.I. agent in training who doesn’t even suspect what he’s really being asked to do when his supervisor Kate (Laura Linney) asks him to keep an eye on a problem child in the agency. She explains Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) has been harassing some female agents, and she recruits Eric to discreetly comb his email, looking for evidence of harassment. She gets him ensconced as Hanssen’s assistant.
Hanssen initially doesn’t seem to be guilty of too much more than being a grouchy old man, and when O’Neill finds Catholic websites instead of porn on the man’s computer, he confronts Kate. Kate reluctantly debriefs O’Neill, telling him that Hanssen is the biggest traitor in U.S. history and that his betrayal resulted in countless dollars and several lives lost. O’Neill continues trying to expose Hanssen without jeopardizing the operation or risking his own neck.
I thought Breach was a nuanced, well-acted movie. It’s deliberately paced but doesn’t seem to drag and in a way even the quietest scenes are disturbing. Chris Cooper was remarkable, making Hanssen alternately menacing and pathetic. Director Billy Ray co-wrote the screenplay with Adam Mazer and William Rotko, and they told a great cat-and-mouse story. I’d love to see their take on the life of Mata Hari.
Three chocolate morsels. And a slab of chocolate cake.