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September 3, 2007 | by  | in Film | [ssba]


Breach is one of the smartest and most fascinating films to come out this year. Chris Cooper plays Robert Hanssen, purportedly the biggest spy in the history of US intelligence. His arrest in 2001, shown in the film’s opening sequence, provoked a media storm. The events leading up to the arrest show how Eric O’Neill (Ryan Philippe) worked as an assistant to the elusive and aloof Hanssen, where he was charged with catching him in the act of selling secrets. Breach is as much a character study as it is spy film and Cooper is brilliant as the turncoat who appears to be a model FBI agent with a few odd quirks. The dynamic between Hanssen and O’Neill is also under the microscope as Hanssen becomes an almost father-like figure to O’Neill.

True stories often make for complicated movies. The fact that Hanssen is a sexual deviant who posts pornographic videos on the Internet, for example, added little to the film, apart from making his devout Catholicism somewhat more questionable. However, other real-life touches deliver knockout blows beyond the power of fiction: the point at which the FBI HQ photos of Bill Clinton and Al Gore are replaced by those of George Bush and Dick Cheney was particularly galling.

For me, the only downside was Philippe. Although nice to look at and a generally good actor, I didn’t think he quite nailed the parts he needed to. O’Neill outmanoeuvres Hanssen by taking extreme risks and exhibiting extreme psychological nous, and while Philippe gets the risks right, he just doesn’t come off as canny enough to outthink and outpsych someone who had been doing just that to the entire FBI. But this is just a minor blip in an otherwise top-notch film. To call a film compelling is probably the highest praise I can offer, and Breach is certainly that.



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