Directed by Billy Ray
Breach is a taut thriller of international intrigue, a true story that concerns the worst (or rather, most successful) American-born spy in the country’s history. But it plays out in a series of very small rooms as an intimate drama of ideas and intent, with nary an explosion nor hyperactive chase scene to be found. The last days of Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) are played out through the eyes of newbie FBI agent Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe), who is assigned to "keep tabs” on Hanssen as the final days of an investigation into 20 years of espionage play out. Hanssen was a high-ranking FBI officer whose primary duties included Soviet/Russian counter-intelligence; ironically, he headed a task force investigating a Soviet spy inside the FBI — it’s much easier to get away with a crime when you’re in charge of tracking down yourself. Cooper and Phillippe have excellent chemistry; within a tiny room in the heart of the FBI building, O’Neill chronicles Hanssen’s every move, even as he grows fonder and less suspicious of the man whom he can’t believe has perpetrated these crimes. He has to be convinced by higher ups, including Laura Linney and Dennis Haysbert; part of O’Neill’s scepticism stems from the fact that — due to Hanssen’s high intelligence and ranking — O’Neill himself is kept in the dark about the scope of the investigation. Cooper does most of the heavy lifting, from an acting perspective, turning from zealously religious family man to hardened international spy in a blink. The intelligence he brings to the role makes the story of Hanssen’s downfall all the more compelling. Like his directorial debut, Shattered Glass (another true story of deluded ambition), Billy Ray presents facts with a good attention to detail (within the confines of his narrative) without passing judgement on Hanssen — not in the right and wrong sense but in the reasons why he spent 20 years dismantling a system he seems to hold to an impossible standard. That Hanssen spied on the country he loved to prove that it could be done — thus inspiring America to a higher standard — seems to be his underlying motive. This underrated film does an excellent job of illuminating the man without simplifying his crimes. Extras on this single disc focus primarily on accuracy in the FBI details, including a commentary with director Ray and subject Eric O’Neill (who left the FBI after Hanssen’s arrest), as well as a Dateline feature on Hanssen. Plus: deleted and extended scenes.
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