I wasn’t sure what to expect with this movie, but Breach promised spies, espionage and life-and-death situations, which it delivered. The way it did so, however, was what took me by surprise. Basically, the movie is a retelling of the 2001 discovery and capture of FBI mole Robert Hanssen, who after 25 years of spying on the Russians was found to be doing a little spying for them as well.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this movie, but Breach promised spies, espionage and life-and-death situations, which it delivered. The way it did so, however, was what took me by surprise.
Basically, the movie is a retelling of the 2001 discovery and capture of FBI mole Robert Hanssen, who after 25 years of spying on the Russians was found to be doing a little spying for them as well. The FBI is forced to bring in untested, green Eric O’Neil, played adequately by the loathsome Ryan Philippe, to be their inside man since Hanssen already knows everyone else. Indeed, he was even head of a task force dedicated to finding himself.
With this kind of framework, it would have been easy for the movie to veer off into suck territory. But it doesn’t. Hanssen, played by an excellent Chris Cooper, had a penchant for making sex tapes of his wife, and, with young Eric being assigned a sexy East German girlfriend, it would have been all too easy for a stupid subplot to be shoehorned in to make Hanssen more monstrous. When O’Neil’s wife finds one of the tapes, I saw an imaginary fork in the road of the movie. A shitty Hollywood movie would have her telling Hanssen’s devout Catholic wife, putting the investigation in some kind of extreme jeopardy and maybe even necessitating a gun battle or car chase. I saw that coming, but it didn’t happen. In fact, there’s not a single gun battle or car chase in the entire film, which helps it to work on a level uninhabited by any other spy movie I’ve ever seen. Breach is straight-forward, linear and stays dead on target the entire running length. No scenes are really unnecessary, nor does anything unrealistic or fantastic happen.
All the impact comes from the personality of Hanssen and the complicated double life he leads: Catholic family man of honor on one hand, and sexual deviant Russian double agent on the other. He has enough good and bad to avoid being pigeonholed into a villain; instead, the viewer sympathizes with him in addition to rooting for his capture. This is the film’s greatest success. Its even-handed and somewhat realistic angle, not without emotion but not strictly emotional, keeps it on the straight and narrow where this kind of movie belongs. The audience isn’t forced to swear allegiance to anyone, so they can sit back and enjoy the craft and tight writing that went into Breach. At no point does it turn into a lame John Grisham-type film, which is lucky since it could have easily done so with just a little more cheesiness.
Some of the best things about Breach are the bad things that weren’t added, and considering how many ways this could have been a shitty action movie, that’s a relief. What’s there is good and to the point. Even though the acting other than that of Chris Cooper is only adequate, this is the kind of movie that isn’t really hampered by that. His Hanssen is spared a bunch of bullshit oratory about how he was driven to become a double agent; that issue is somewhat left alone, which ends up being effective rather than disappointing.
This kind of straight-forwardness and restraint is just what moviegoers need considering the amount of needless fucking around most movies do. If that’s what you’re after, you’ll probably find Breach pretty boring. Otherwise, this is a thoughtful, streamlined film that sticks to a story and tells it well. If this is what you’re in the mood for, then you won’t be disappointed.