When Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe), a young FBI agent-in-training, is promoted to work for renowned operative Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) within the technology-driven "information assurance," department he is keen. His enthusiasm, however, quickly turns to anxiety as O'Neill is confronted with the true reason behind his unexpected promotion. Hanssen is the sole subject of an extensive top-secret investigation as a suspected long-term mole who has become extremely dangerous by the sheer global import of the information he is protecting. The Bureau's Senior Agent Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney) asks O'Neill to use Hanssen's growing trust of the apprentice to draw the traitor out of deep cover. Engaged in a lethal game of spy-versus-spy, O'Neill feels the pressure mount - both professionally and on his marriage to Juliana (Caroline Dhavernas), who has to be kept in the dark about Eric's real work.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's a brutal, economical title: Breach. Within the word of US espionage, however, it's a word loaded with detonative power. This film shows why: inspired by the true story of super spy Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), it reveals how a rookie agent at the FBI was put in a position to finally catch Hanssen in the act of passing secrets to Russian agents. He had been doing it for 22 years and was the single biggest spy ever caught out - he was found guilty of treason in February 2001 and is serving a life sentence.
It's a great story for cinema, full of tension and enormous risks for the characters. But it's what the two leads, Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe bring to the film that is the most riveting, because they make the story about human nature. This is the strength of the screenplay, too, of course. The writers swerve away from the spy genre - as driven by trues stories they are probably bound to do - and in retelling the story, they find the buttons to push for everything to matter. It's not just about the great secrets of US intelligence; although the example given, in which Hanssen passed on the entire plan for continuing Government in the case of a major 'event' is certainly big enough. It's about the very nature of Hanssen the man, his solid family, his fervent Catholicism, his perversions and his love of strippers (for example) that makes such a complete and multi layered character. In the end, we almost feel sorry for him, having come to know him a bit.
And that's exactly what Eric does - gets to know him a little bit, gets to admire and respect him, even when he is told the truth about Hanssen. But he has a choice to make - and this is the core message of the film; and in the end, we all have choices to make. The film is at its most effective and potent as it subtly uncovers what makes Hanssen tick this way; having been overlooked and minimised all his professional life, his begrudgement finds utterance in a quite moment in the woods, when, slightly inebriated, he hisses at his junior: "I matter plenty..." - words that betray his vanity and his need for revenge.
This is Ryan Phillippe at his best, no doubt spurred on by a mighty performance from Cooper; both Oscar nominations should be in the bag. Terrific direction from Billy Ray (whose powerful drama, Shattered Glass, was also about betrayal) and superb production values help make this one of the best films of the year.
Review by Louise Keller:
With the real Eric O'Neill credited as a consultant in this gripping spy thriller, chances are director Billy Ray captured the tone of this true-to-life story just right. 'An FBI agent is never off duty,' Chris Cooper's foreboding operative Robert Hanssen tells Ryan Phillippe's ambitious, cocky rookie, whose assignment to spy on his boss is a bigger deal than he could have ever imagined. Like the ornate Russian dolls that stack inside each other, this is the spy story within the spy story and one that is threatening on both a professional, personal and treasonous level. Lies become embroiled in more lies until the very essence of truth becomes a wobbly commodity. Deception and manipulation are the tools; the price of failure is far too high to even contemplate. Get ready to hold your breath - this intelligently told story is filled with tension and fascinating at every turn.
Phillippe's O'Neill is told to take nothing personally in his new role, but how can it not be personal when everything that matters is at stake? At stake is his integrity, his reputation, his marriage and ultimately... his life. Phillippe takes this plum role with both hands and delivers a dense performance filled with nuance. His emotions are held tightly within, and he portrays everything almost telepathically. As the paradoxical Hanssen, Cooper creates a believable and complex man, whose paranoia envelops him like a solar system. Hanssen's ultra religious practices and curious personal life are in seemingly direct contrast to his actions and deviances, but Cooper somehow gives us a glimpse into the very thought process of the man. He is unlikeable and confronting, yet there is something about his integrity that is unshakable. Phillippe and Cooper are marvellous together and my heart nearly stopped several times as the close shaves become razor close, as their characters fight a battle of wills in order to discover who is the smarter. Laura Linney's Senior Agent Kate who has sacrificed her personal life for the job ('with not even a cat to come home to') is solid in the role, and Caroline Dhavernas is likeable as O'Neill's German student wife Juliana.
Director Ray teases out the tension and we are at the point of explosion when the satisfying climax finally comes. A spy story that hypnotises on all levels.
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CAST: Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney, Caroline Dhavernas, Gary Cole, Dennis Haysbert, Kathleen Quinlan, Bruce Davison, Jonathan Watton, Tom Barnett
PRODUCER: Scott Kroopf, Scott Strauss
DIRECTOR: Billy Ray
SCRIPT: Billy Ray, Adam Mazer, William Rotko
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tak Fujimoto
EDITOR: Jeffrey Ford
MUSIC: Mychael Danna
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Wynn Thomas
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 17, 2007