Breach Billy Ray

Breach is such a good movie you sort of want it to be a little better. Its delineation of the biggest security breach in American history, perpetrated by extremely clever FBI agent Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), is so persuasive as a thriller that it winds up alluding to things on which it never follows up.

Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe) is the wannabe agent ostensibly sent to uncover Hanssen’s life as a "sexual deviant.” When the younger man finds nothing but a rock solid, God-fearing super-patriot, he’s nonplussed to say the least, especially when he’s later informed that Hanssen has in fact been selling secrets to the Soviets, resulting in the deaths of countless American agents. O’Neill is further upset by the strain on his own existence, both from the infiltration of his life by his quarry and his need to lie to wife Juliana (Caroline Dhavernas) so as not to blow his cover.

There’s no question that the film is enjoyable, with Cooper portraying an excellent poker-faced monster who lives to defile everything to which he publicly professes. It’s just that he’s so well drawn for a thriller that you wish that his character were explored in the kind of depth that Mailer brought to Gary Gilmore in The Executioner’s Song.

Still, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; the film is sharply written by several hands and ominously directed by Billy Ray, who suggests a less flamboyant Alan J. Pakula in his use of cold, empty space so as to instil creeping dread. In fact, it’s as good a movie as you’re going to find at this time of year. Swallow any reservations and give it a look.

(Universal)