CAPSULE: The appeal of BREACH is the opportunity to look into the mind of a man of genius who is betraying his country from within the FBI. Some of the man becomes clear and some remains an enigma to the new recruit to the FBI who is forced to bring him down. Chris Cooper playing the traitor Robert Hanssen is most of the show. He gets an excellent opportunity to show off his fine talent as a very strange man who is a mass of contradictions. Ryan Phillippe plays Eric O'Neill, smart himself, but strained to just keep up with Hanssen, much less defeat him at his own game. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
On Monday, February 19, 2001, the FBI announced the arrest of Robert Hanssen, an FBI analyst and agent who over an interval of twenty-two years had done incalculable damage to the interests of his country selling secrets to the Soviet Union. His spying from within the FBI is considered "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in US history. BREACH starts with the actual video announcement and then flashes back two months to tell the story of how Robert Hanssen was caught. Ryan Phillippe plays Eric O'Neill is an FBI recruit trying to make agent so that he can apply his intellect and computer skill. He is pulled out of training for a less agreeable assignment. He is to be a clerk for Robert Hanssen and at the same time spy on him to collect evidence that he is publishing pornography on the Internet.
Robert Hanssen is not at all what he expected. Hanssen is a fanatic Catholic who goes to church every day and prays in the office. Hanssen is himself a computer genius and an overbearing and demanding supervisor. He also decides to turn O'Neill into another fanatic Catholic and insinuates himself into O'Neill's relationship with his East-Germany-born wife. Juliana O'Neill (Caroline Dhavernas) rebels at having Eric's supervisor proselytizing her. Hanssen freely pontificates on whatever is on his mind. When he finds mistakes or weaknesses in O'Neill's work he turns on him in with a vicious anger, but he also seems to want to father him.
O'Neill has to serve him and also secretly to serve the agent investigating Hanssen, Kate Burroughs (played by Laura Linney). By any standards but comparison to Hanssen she is a hard and impatient master. O'Neill is disgusted by the clerical assignment and worse by the spying on an FBI agent until he finds out what Hanssen really is doing and why he is being investigated. We move over a two-month period to Hanssen's arrest.
While Billy Ray directs the film to work as a thriller, it is also a character study of the Hanssen character. While Chris Cooper looks very unlike the real Hanssen (see the link below), he really creates the role. He makes us sense the intelligence of the man and feel that intellect crumble as the snare tightens around him. Actor Chris Cooper has a natural scowl that worked for him as the stern father in OCTOBER SKY and works equally well for him here. This is a man one would not want to cross, but of course, crossing him is exactly what Eric O'Neill was sent to do. Speaking of crossings, my wife noticed a point I would not have. Hanssen berates O'Neill for not being devout. Perhaps he is right in one sense. O'Neill is a Jesuit-taught Catholic, but when he enters a church with Hanssen he incorrectly crosses himself. (Forehead-shoulder-shoulder-stomach rather than a cross.) Hanssen does it the proper way.
The film has recognizable actors in even some minor roles. Dennis Haysbert is no stranger to political thrillers, appearing in both television programs "24" and "The Unit". He is also familiar from television insurance ads. Kathleen Quinlin play Hanssen's wife, the real force behind Hanssen's religiosity. Bruce Davison plays Eric O'Neill's father.
The one question that remains with the viewer is why would this particular man turn into the country's greatest traitor. We get some possible explanations, but since nobody really knows the real answer, perhaps it is better that the film just suggests what it might be. But the story by Adam Mazer and William Rotko does not answer that most important question for the audience. This is certainly a much tighter film about the intelligence community than is the recent THE GOOD SHEPHERD. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Wikipedia on Hanssen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Hanssen Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0401997/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper