Breach (2007)

DVD Cover (Universal)
Genres: Docudrama, Spy Film, Unglamorized Spy Film
FBI upstart Eric O'Neill enters into a power game with his boss, Robert Hanssen, an agent who was put on trial for selling secrets to the Soviet Union. --IMDb
Billy Ray Billy Ray
Chris Cooper Chris Cooper
Ryan Phillippe Ryan Phillippe
Laura Linney Laura Linney
Caroline Dhavernas Caroline Dhavernas
Gary Cole Gary Cole

7.0 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: February 20, 2007
There are numerous reasons as to why "Breach" should be an amazing motion picture. Take, for example, its director - Billy Ray. Besides his sharing my name, his previous film, "Shattered Glass" was one of the best films of that year, or any year for that matter. He is one hell of a writer and one hell of a director. Also, consider the film's star - Chris Cooper, one of the most versatile, thought provoking, and universally acclaimed performers in Hollywood today. Throw in Oscar nominee Laura Linney and you have the kind of Oscar calibur cast that should propel any film to instant success and acclaim. And, acclaim it is getting. "Breach" has turned into one of the most critically acclaimed pictures of the year (thought, technically, that's not saying much since all it has for real competition is "Code Name: The Cleaner" and "Ghost Rider"). But, it didn't altogether work for me. I enjoyed "Breach" - don't get me wrong - but it just seemed a little too 'run of the mill' for its own good, which is a shame considering the pedigree with which it is associated.

Based on true events, Ryan Phillippe stars as Eric O'Neill, an FBI man working trivial jobs on his way to becoming a full-fledged agent. Out of the blue, he is plucked away from his assignment by Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney), who wants O'Neill to take on a new task - chronicling the activities and movements of one Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), the former chief of Soviet affairs who has now been placed at a desk job in the bureau. Hanssen is an FBI lifer, and he can spot a lie from a mile away, as he proves numerous times throughout the film. Initially, O'Neill thinks the FBI wants Hanssen watched because of his lurid sexual fetishes. Soon, however, he realizes that it is not a sex fiend he is after, but a spy. He learns that Hanssen is, in fact, worst spy in United States history, having sold secrets and other documents to the Russians for years and years, resulting in the loss of lives and billions of dollars. "Breach" deals with the relationship between O'Neill and Hanssen as they wind down to the eventual conclusion, which is already known in most news circles. The film tries to show us what would make a devoted bureau man commit horrid acts of treason.

Let's start with the unbelievable. I had extreme difficulty believing a character like Robert Hanssen, as portrayed by Chris Cooper, could ever be outwitted by a character like Eric O'Neill, as played by Ryan Phillippe. With all the man has seen - with the way he is built up and has outsmarted just about everyone in the bureau - I could never see the boy next door giving him his comeuppance. Whenever you think Hanssen is about to wise up to O'Neill, all O'Neill has to do is spout off some lame speech full of reasonings, that any plumber would pick up on, much less a trained and celebrated FBI agent - we hear this speech at least three times, and it might work the first time, but it wears thin towards the end and you wonder how they could expect us to buy Ryan Phillippe ever being able to outsmart Chris Cooper. That's "Cruel Intentions" defeating "Adaptation"? And, this turned out to be a fundamental flaw for me - if I can't believe the progression of the characters, I really can't enjoy the film as much as otherwise. "Breach" was well-written and well-directed, but I think the character of Eric O'Neill should have been cast differently...non-Phillippe.

That said, on to the performances. Chris Cooper is flawless here. He charges head-first into this character and delivers one of the best performances of the year. He embodies this man as someone who is the definition of hypocrisy - a man who puts on a grand charade and uses his patriotism to justify his terrible actions. On the opposite side, Ryan Phillippe is awful. I guess I am just not a Ryan Phillippe fan, but he is just plain bad here. It's like watching a fourteen-year-old trying his best to act like an adult. During the scenes when he was confronting Chris Cooper, I just kept waiting for him to stick out his tongue and shout, "Nah Nah!" In another trivial role, Laura Linney is brilliant, as always, but is given very little to do. I wanted to see more of her. I wanted to see her take charge in a couple more scenes. Dennis Haysbert and Gary Cole have brief, but enjoyable, supporting roles, but Chris Cooper is the show here - and Chris Cooper owns every scene. It's a shame that Cooper's performance was so amazing, because maybe that is why it makes Phillippe's performance look so bad - we see a phenomenal actor toe-to-toe with a grumpy fourth grader.

So, am I recommending "Breach"? Yes. It's a shame the film wasn't released later in 2007, because that might have meant Oscar consideration for Chris Cooper, but his performance will likely be forgot by the year's end, unfortunately. "Breach" is just an average thriller with an above average performance by Chris Cooper. If the rest of the film matched Cooper, it would have been the best film of the year, hands down. So, if there's nothing else you're dying to see in theatres, I would recommend you give "Breach" a shot - otherwise, don't worry about it. And all you Ryan Phillippe fans out there need to find a new rippled chest Messiah - this one's down for the count. I can't take him seriously, and I don't think most people can. "Breach" is a good film, but not a great one. Chris Cooper is a great actor, and his performance is amazing. Ryan Phillippe is paid to stand around and sulk and look pretty for ninety minutes. Mission accomplished.

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