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Buoyed by some decent reviews, and having been a fan of Chris Cooper
since "Matewan", I was ready for a good espionage thriller. I was
mistaken, this is more a standard drama, with little effort to give
much depth to his life or his capture. Instead, it concentrates most of
the time on the Mentor/Student relationship O'Neill is assigned to
fill. By the third act, little intrigue has been generated, and we are
left with O'Neill's torn life of living undercover done better in "The
Departed" or "Donnie Brasco". Even for what the movie does concentrate
on, Hanssen's secret perversions and paranoia, you are left with little
explanation at the end. Would it have hurt to get a few extra scenes of
Laura Linney putting together the vast Hanssen case, all those 50
investigators uncovering the worst espionage case in U.S. history?
Instead, it's O'Neill's wife's displeasure of being married to a
(potential) FBI agent.
Cooper's acting is fine, but is still trapped in a narrow view of the two months leading to his arrest. A mundane office, with mundane hallways, in a mundane federal building. How did he get in contact with the Russians? There are only blips of back-story. Those who remember Cooper in a similar role in "The Bourne Identity", there is no sense of danger in Hanssen's character, just a man slowly being caught in his own web.
Well, wikipedia says most of the dramatisation in this movie is false,
including the shooting in the woods. So much for "based on a true
And there's the repeated line that he was the worst spy in US history, but the evidence has never been revealed.
It's a well told story, especially through the performance of the spy actor - but who cares? An employee of US Govt Inc breaks its monopoly on information by selling that information to Foreign Govt Inc. Movie folk come along and make patriotism the bogus angle.
I could go on, but the whole thing stinks of propaganda. And which corporation distributed this stinker? NBCUniversal, promoter of information hoarding. I trust them.
How do you catch a spy? Very carefully. In this case, the spy worked
for the FBI. So, lure him back to the agency and claim he's being
"promoted". Also, to add to the mix, give him his own assistant. This
is how Robert Hannsen, possibly the most notorious double-agent who
spied for Soviet/Russian intelligence was eventually caught.
The film begins in the early days of the George W. Bush presidential administration. John Ashcroft is the new Attorney General, head of the Department of Justice, and the FBI resides under that department. Robert Hannsen is brought back to the FBI and told that he is assigned the task of overseeing the technical side of FBI security. He is given an assistant, Eric O'Neill, who, unknown to Hannsen, is a counter-intelligence operative working undercover. O'Neill's task: to monitor Hannsen. Later, he learns the full truth: Hannsen is perhaps the most notorious of spies who traded US secrets to the Soviet Union/Russian State for over two decades. Will O'Neill be able to simultaneously play dutiful but clueless assistant, while trying to uncover the secrets about Hannsen?
A good film, which is slightly different than the real story, but mostly on the mark. Apparently, O'Neill knew from the beginning about Hannsen, although in the film, he doesn't find out the whole truth until near midway through. Also, there were several very interesting episodes involving Hannsen prior to his "surveillance" which would have been very interesting to include, such as the recognition of Hannsen's voice on a tape included in a package from a Soviet informant that the government played $7 million for. (An excerpt is played in the film.) Still an excellent film, with highest marks going to Chris Cooper as Hannsen.
Breach is a wonderful, slow-burning thriller based on the worst breach
in American history. It also goes along well as a cat-and-mouse
thriller between the undercover FBI agent, O'Neill and the suspected
man himself, Robert Hanssen. Even though the film is a work of fiction,
it provides lots of information about the actual events, and I learned
a lot that way. The film goes a good job in building up the tension,
despite knowing exactly how the film is going to end. The film is
well-acted and provides a strong script.
Billy Ray's film is about an FBI agent named Eric O'Neill who desperately wants a promotion and he seizes his chance when he is tasked to get close to a senior agent named Robert Hanssen who has also been labeled as a sexual deviant but it is also believed he is selling secrets to the Soviets. While undercover, the task proves to be hard as O'Neill begins to grow fond of the man and is facing issues at home because of his new boss.
The film is well-acted especially from Chris Cooper who gives a tour-de-force performance as Robert Hanssen. Cooper gives a strong amount of a cunning and untrustworthy personality and it gave me the creeps sometimes as I felt he could see through O'Neill's identity. Ryan Phillippe gives a good performance as the young O'Neill who eventually became a hero of the FBI. Laura Linney also does well as the stern, no-nonsense boss of O'Neill.
Overall, Breach is a chilling story depicting the worst espionage any American have committed in history. It shows just how vulnerable our secrets can be, especially in the wrong hands. I like how the film also turned into a deep character study focusing on the Catholicism of Hanssen. This is a fantastic film, although it's a bit of a slow burner. I rate this film 9/10.
This was pretty good for such a dry, slow-burning movie, it drags at
times but still manages to keep a level of tension and suspense going
throughout and I id end up really enjoying this. Ultimately it was the
strong performances from both Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe that
saved this for me.
Cooper is intense and creepy here displaying a range of mystique. Laura Linney as his handler was quite bitchy. Ryan plays an FBI Trainee who is assigned to keep en eye on a fellow agent suspected of selling information to the soviets. Its his first real case and initially he's not even sure what he's looking for. 7/17/14
It even felt a little too boring, too. The story of a government agent
tasked on spying on the worst US spy in history. I can't stop wondering
what would have happened if they didn't catch the bad guy? Wouldn't the
lowly (soon to be) agent take the fall? It's all politics after all.
The movie did end in a more positive way than Donnie Brasco, with the
guy realizing his position and actually quitting.
All actors played well, Chris Cooper most of all. The story was based on true events, but the plot was clearly manipulated in order to make the movie bearable. After all, when you know someone betrays you, the act of catching them is only a detail.
The story of Robert Hanssen is curious. How could a man that looked so
normal on the outside be a spy? Breach doesn't really offer an answer
and is better for it. Chris Cooper instead plays Hanssen to complexity.
It seems throughout the movie that even Hanssen wasn't fully aware of
his motives. Maybe it was a bet to himself just to see if he could do
The biggest weakness of the film is Laura Linney. I like Laura Linney, so it's with regret that I say she's cardboard in this movie. She plays a characture of an FBI agent as if she watched B grade spy movies to fill the part. Scenes she's not in are some of the best.
Ultimately, the plot suffers by never making up its mind if it is a thriller or a character piece. It waffles. It would have been better to cut the bits of thriller (that don't really thrill all that effectively) and stick with allowing the characters to move and interact a bit more. It's frustrating to have a brilliant scene between Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe cut into by a scene in which (Oh no!) Cooper is about to find out who Phillippe is.
Without a doubt, Cooper makes Breach a good film. It's packing too much into the movie that makes it less than great.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I imagine some of the reviewers have worked for the govt. I haven't
yet. But I hope our govt wouldn't say exactly how we spied on Hanssen.
If you're a spy and they send you to a new job in the "back room" of
the agency to do nothing special, you should get very suspicious. Not
to mention your assistant's pager that sounds like, "hey we're coming
to get ya". Hanssen didn't have a pager, didn't get calls from his
Again a spy of that level should be suspicious of stray cats outside his home (and would be). That's how he was a 22 year spy. He knows his car is bugged but the constant delays by O'Neill don't raise his suspicion? Hard to believe that really happened. And what's up with the wife who thinks she has top level clearance. If your husband sweeps floors for the FBI, he won't be able to tell you everything. I was more suspicious of her being a spy.
However, this was better than most spy movies (which doesn't say much for spy movies. sorry Hollywood). No shoot em up, blow em up stuff as other true stories feel like they must have them. Some reviews call it the best. If this is the best one, then face the fact that we'll never really know the protocol for taking down spies. Unless some of you have already done it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Chris Cooper is Robert Hanssen, a traitor working within the FBI and
selling secrets to the Russians. The FBI knows about the billions of
dollars of damage he's done and the lives that he's had sacrificed, but
they need more solid evidence to put him away for good. They recruit
Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe), a novice lawyer at the Bureau, as a mole
who is to work as Cooper's immediate underling. Cooper thinks Phillippe
is working for him, but he's really working for a different department,
run by Laura Linney. Phillippe must conceal his work from his
German-born wife, Juliana, leading to the usual mess in which the guy
must not only keep his work secret but must keep secret the fact that
he's keeping it a secret. In the end, Cooper is nailed and put away for
life, and Phillippe quits the bureau for an independent (and
undoubtedly more lucrative) private practice.
Ryan Phillippe is only barely adequate and he's up against some seasoned and impressive players. His performance is even overwhelmed by Dennis Haysbert in a small part. You'll recognize Haysbert when you see him. He's told us in his sonorous baritone a thousand times that, "You're in good hands with Allstate." I'm going to skip most of the details of how Cooper is finally trapped, partly because I don't quite understand them. For instance, Cooper makes a final drop at the drop place, but I couldn't figure out how anyone managed to divine the location of the drop site.
Anyway, the movie belongs to Chris Cooper and, man, is he good. When we first meet him, he's sour, pasty. His lips are pinched and his eyes rimmed with red. And he's surly with his subordinate. He hates Hillary Clinton, lesbians, and the usual betes noires of the right wing. He doesn't approve of drinking. He and his family attend mass every morning and makes snotty comments about Protestants. He seems at first like a stereotype, yet as the movie rolls along in its deliberate pace we see that he's a far more complex character than we might have thought. He's genuinely sympathetic as Phillippe tells him lies about his sick grandmother in order to cover his own attempts to uncover solid evidence. And Cooper sends around tapes of himself and his wife making rough love.
We get to know Cooper's character only through the eyes of Phillippe, so as the character unfolds he seems to lurch from one state to another. For instance, we know Cooper doesn't drink. But he shows up unexpectedly at Phillipe's house drunk, takes Phillippe into Rock Creek Park, and shoots a few rounds near him to find out if Phillippe really is what he says he is, a mere clerk. After a scene like that, you can't help wondering what is going through Cooper's mind, what -- exactly -- happened to him to bring him to this state?
I'll give one example of Cooper's expertise in this film. Phillippe has just been in Cooper's office, rifling some files, and is almost caught when Cooper returns sooner than expected. Cooper enters his office, looks around, and then saunters over to Phillippe's desk. "O'Neill, have you been in my briefcase?" Phillipe makes up some BS cover story about spilled water and having to move the briefcase, while Cooper listens doubtfully. And if you want to see a good actor express "doubt" without either underplaying or going overboard, watch the expression on Cooper's face while he parses this story in his head.
There are no shoot outs and the suspense is limited to a few incidents. Mostly it's a drama about character. There is no question that Cooper was a traitor and there is virtually nothing about his motives. Nor need there be. I'll speculate anyway. It wasn't money. He evidently made lots of it but he didn't need it, and it seems hardly worth risking humiliation, arrest, and a life sentence in prison. Cooper lives about the way his character should live, not modestly but not opulently either. Cooper's character does mutter something about the thrill that comes from being part of a team looking for someone, and knowing that you yourself are the person they're looking for. It might be a clue. There's a sensuous quality to outwitting other people, a reward in itself. Money needn't be part of it. That's why we enjoy playing scrabble or bridge. That's why a burglar will tip-toe through a house in which he KNOWS others to be present, just in order to steal a purse with a few dollars in it, as happened to my mother. It satisfies our desire for self testing -- exactly how good are we?
What a rush!
Robert Hanssen: Tell me five things about yourself, four of them true.
Eric O'Neill: I don't think I'd be much good at bluffing.
Robert Hanssen: That would've counted as your lie.
There is one reason to see 'Breach' - Chris Cooper. The incredibly underrated Oscar winning actor seems to do every role he takes flawlessly. His role in 'Breach' is no exception, in fact it might be one of his best performances. Cooper plays Robert Hannsen, an ultra-Catholic FBI Operative who has been suspected of handing over information to the Soviets. Another FBI Operative (Laura Linney) hell-bent on catching him sends a rookie (Ryan Phillippe) to pose as Hanssen's assistant and try to catch him in the act of treason. The movie is suspenseful consistently, and Phillippe's acting impressed me. Laura Linney is great in her limited screen time, and All State Commercial's Dennis Haysbert is always a pleasure to watch play an authoritative figure. My only complaint with 'Breach' is it lacks drama. The biggest downfall of the movie is the script, which is sometimes so jam-packed full of cheesy and cliché dialogue, it detracted my attention away from the plot. All in all, 'Breach' features some good performances, an extraordinary performance by Chris Cooper, thrilling sequences and some crappy dialogue. Grade: B-
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