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Breach
cast: Ryan Phillippe, Chris Cooper, Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert, and Gary Cole

director: Billy Ray

111 minutes (PG-13) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Universal NTSC DVD Region 1 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe) is a junior FBI employee desperate to get a promotion to agent status. He's assigned to work undercover as a clerk to legendary agent Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) ostensibly to keep an eye on him for suspected sexual deviancy. It's a difficult assignment especially as Hanssen is a rigidly formal, strict man and O'Neill finds himself forced to bite his tongue constantly. However, as time goes by it becomes clear that Hanssen is a remarkably intelligent, articulate man. He complains bitterly about the FBI's bureaucracy, fears for the agency's future due to its antiquated systems and feels, and acts, like a good man being passed over. Slowly, he and O'Neill become friends and O'Neill confronts his handler Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney) over the trumped up allegations. Only then does he find out the real reason he was given the assignment...

Based on a true story, Breach is a fascinating and often old-fashioned spy movie. Effectively, it's a character study of the two central figures and with Philippe and Cooper in those roles it makes for riveting viewing. Few actors of his age do 'everyman' quite like Philippe and here he excels. He plays O'Neill as a gifted, intelligent, motivated agent who is beginning to worry about his career prospects, a smart man who fears he may be a little too smart. Effectively, O'Neill is Hanssen several decades earlier and the film draws some fascinating parallels, especially between O'Neill's lapsed Catholicism and Hanssen's membership of Opus Deii.

Cooper owns the film, though. His Hanssen is a rigidly strict, patriarchal and oddly fractured man. Initially irritable and sharp-tongued he peels the layers back to reveal a man who should have been great or at the very least believes he should have been and has let his bitterness eat him away. Hanssen is a tragic figure and is, for the most part, played as such, marking a sharp departure from the usual spy movie villain.

The rest of the cast are equally impressive, in particular the always-impressive Linney as O'Neill's handler but this film belongs to the two leads. It's study of youth versus experience, faith versus the lack of faith makes for fascinating viewing and it should come as no surprise that Cooper is an early, alleged, Oscar nod for his work here. Intelligent, smart and oddly poignant, Breach is a cut above the usual thriller fare and one that deserves your attention.
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