Breach


Directed by: Billy Ray
Written by:Adam Mazer, William Rotko, Billy Ray
Starring: Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney, Caroline Dhavernas, Gary Cole, Dennis Haysbert
Released: May 17, 2007
Grade: B+

"Sunday, the FBI successfully concluded an investigation to end a serious breach in the security of the United States. The arrest of Robert Hanssen for espionage should remind every American that our nation, our free society, is an international target in a dangerous world.”

The above statement, read by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft on 20 February 2001, is the opening scene of Breach.  Those already familiar with the tale will know that Hanssen was guilty of selling top-secret government intelligence to the Russians over a 15 year period.  It is considered to be the greatest security breach in U.S. history.

Director Billy Ray’s film doesn’t show us how Hanssen got away with it for so long.  Rather, it focuses on how he was caught.  A large team of FBI agents were assigned to case.  They had been searching his car, tapping his phone, bugging his office and keeping him under constant surveillance.  Evidence was obtained but it wasn’t strong enough to guarantee a conviction.  To do so, they needed to physically see Hanssen handing over classified documents.

In Breach, Hanssen is played by Academy Award winning actor Chris Cooper.  Seeing him in this film has me convinced that he’s one of the best actors working today.  He may keep a low public profile but his performances in films such as American Beauty, Adaptation and Seabiscuit will secure him a long career in the movie business.

Heavily involved in the investigation was a young FBI employee named Eric O’Neill (played by Ryan Phillippe).  O’Neill was brought in as Hanssen’s assistant for an IT security division which had recently been established.  The FBI hoped that the two would become friends and that O’Neill could be used to gather incriminating evidence on his boss.

I had trouble buying this part of the story.  There’s a scene early in the film where Hanssen asks O’Neill to tell him 5 things about himself, with only 4 of them being truthful.  Hanssen spots the lie immediately.  If he’s so good at reading people, how does Hanssen not realise O’Neill true intentions?  Perhaps my criticism needs to be aimed at Ryan Phillippe.  He is too obvious with his awkward body language and fictitious stories.  If he were the real Eric O’Neill, the real Hanssen would have seen straight through him.

Despite this criticism, Breach is a very intriguing film.  I’m a big fan of spy thrillers and the fact that this is a true story makes it all the more compelling.  We get to peak inside the FBI and see how they cracked one of their biggest cases.  It was of interest to me and I’m sure it’ll be of interest to others.