Chris Cooper (ADAPTATION) gives a remarkable performance as complicated and bitter FBI agent Robert Hanssen in BREACH. Hanssen is a computer specialist who, after 25 years of service, is put under surveillance as a suspected sex offender. Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe, CRASH) is the ambitious young upstart they put on the job, assigning him to pose as Hanssen’s new clerk in order to win his trust and keep an eye on his every move. Eric is dismayed to be put on such low-priority detail, accustomed as he is to investigating high-profile terrorism suspects. His reluctance is multiplied as he gets to know the subject of his inquiry; Hanssen is at first harsh towards his young secretary, but as he opens up, Eric gets to know and respect him as a family man of strong Catholic faith. Soon, however, Hanssen is infiltrating Eric’s personal life and causing problems between him and his wife, Juliana (Caroline Dhavernas, HOLLYWOODLAND), and just when Eric is about to give up the case, he discovers that it is much bigger than he ever imagined. Eric finds himself in the middle of an investigation into the biggest security breach in U.S. history, forcing him to resort to dramatic and ingenious tactics in order to bring down the suspect. Director Billy Ray’s first directorial effort was the dramatization of the Stephen Glass scandal at the D.C. magazine The New Republic in SHATTERED GLASS, and here he once again turns his eye--with great success--to a true story with a complex villain. Cooper’s excellent characterization invites pity and horror in equal measure; his performance is well supported in this character-driven thriller by Laura Linney (KINSEY) as the hard-nosed agent leading the investigation, and Phillippe as the resourceful and introspective O’Neill.
"Breach" is based on the true story of FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who was convicted of treason in 2001 for having sold U.S. secrets to Moscow for some $1.4 million in cash and diamonds. Hanssen, an expert on Russian intelligence, was a 25-year veteran of the agency. When the authorities caught wind of his extracurricular activities, they gave him a new job, one that allowed him access to extremely sensitive information, and assigned a young and rather green surveillance specialist, Eric O'Neill, to be his assistant. They hoped, in a gambit that paid off, that O'Neill would help uncover the evidence they needed to catch and convict Hanssen.
That story sounds more like a movie than like real life, the sort of material that could lure even a smart filmmaker into the wilds of overdramatization and overkill. But the director of "Breach," Billy Ray, is too wily, too hip to the value of understatement, to make that mistake. Ray -- also the director of the 2003 "Shattered Glass," another movie about a creepy guy leading a double life -- likes to explore that murky gray area where self-delusion and the deception of others blend into a kind of egotistical religion of the self. When lies -- your own lies -- are all you can believe in, what use do you have for any sort of God?