Film Review: Breach

18 August 2007

Breach is about betrayal. Based on actual events, it explores why a man would want to betray his country, but also questions why someone would want to live in a world of secrets and lies.

Robert Hanssen, brilliantly portrayed by Chris Cooper, was the FBI agent who sold secrets to the Soviet Union. The film covers the last couple of months before his capture as Eric O’Neill, a young and ambitious FBI employee (Ryan Philippe) who wants to make agent is put next to Hanssen to try and flush him out. The FBI want to catch him making a drop so that no amount of legal dexterity can save the spy.

The story is about how Eric gets close to Hanssen and gains his trust, at some cost to Eric’s relationship with his wife. Juliana, and eventually to his ambitions to be an agent. Hanssen believes that he is smarter than his colleagues, but hasn’t received adequate recognition – he doesn’t have a corner office. You get the impression that he is passing on secrets because he can, and perhaps because of a troubled relationship with his father. There are hints of some strange behaviours – Hanssen films videos of himself making love to his wife and sends them to someone in Germany. In the end, unmasking and capture are inevitable, but perhaps that’s part of the game: he wants to be caught, he wants to be guilty, he wants to be as hard on himself as he is on everyone else, and as his father was on him. Also in the end, he is outsmarted by Eric, or is it because he wants to be?

The acting by Chris Cooper is great, and the main supports, Ryan Philippe and Laura Linney as Eric’s handler, help build the mood of the film. This is not a full-on action special spy thriller, but it is a clever and thoughtful story that does leave you thinking.

The director is Billy Ray, more details of cast and crew can be found at the IMDB page for Breach.