|Chris Cooper||Robert Hanssen|
|Ryan Philippe||Eric O'Neill|
|Laura Linney||Kate Burroughs|
|Dennis Haysbert||Dan Plesac|
|Caroline Dhavernas||Juliana O'Neill|
|Gary Cole||Rich Garces|
|Kathleen Quinlan||Bonnie Hanssen|
|Directed by||Billy Ray|
The first time we see Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) he?s walking through the underground garage beneath FBI headquarters. He pauses, and glances at the space reserved for the FBI Director, Louis Freeh. The range of expressions that passes in an instant across Chris Cooper?s face tells us volumes about this enigmatic man who has been called the worst and most damaging traitor in American history. There?s suspicion, paranoia, envy, arrogance, sardonic amusement, anger, and a half a dozen other emotions that probably don?t even have names.
Cooper, who won a Supporting Actor Oscar in 2002 for Adaptation, is an actor who can keep things buttoned up behind slitted eyes and a guarded, taciturn demeanor, and still tell us everything we need to know about his character. He is the principal reason why this unspectacular, low-key study of the Hanssen national security fiasco is so effective.
Breach is based on a true story, and as such it doesn?t have the advantage of a surprise ending. We know he gets caught, and we don?t remember him directly killing anybody, so the suspense is limited to procedural matters ? not ?Will he get back before they finish searching his car?? but ?How will they keep him from getting back before they finish searching his car??
The tough work in that assignment is the job of Eric O?Neill (Ryan Phillipe), an ambitious young FBI functionary who wants desperately to make agent. He?s assigned by a Bureau management team headed by Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney) to go to work as Hanssen?s assistant, and keep tabs on everything the man does. At first, he?s only told that Hanssen is a sexual pervert with a passion for internet porn. This is true, but on the scale of Hanssen?s crimes it ranks on a level with halitosis. (In the real investigation, apparently, O?Neill was never kept in the dark.) The deception here is presumably for deniability and damage control ? Hanssen?s hobby is reading people like a book, and as Linney?s character says, ?he?s smarter than all of us.?.
?Tell me five things about yourself,? Hanssen says by way of introductory greeting. ?Four of them true, one a lie.?
?I?m afraid I?m not much good at lying,? O?Neill demurs.
?That would count as your lie right there,? says his boss.
It?s a cat-and-mouse game played for high stakes in drab surroundings. The Bureau is a colorless place. In the barren institutional hallways there are stacks of shrink-wrapped cartons of unused computers (product placement ? the FBI uses Dell.) The only decoration is photo portraits of the President and the Attorney General, earning derisive laughter from the audience when Clinton comes down and the Bush team goes up.
Hanssen was also a religious zealot, and the movie plays that up, using it for plot as well as for character. Both Hanssen and O?Neill are Roman Catholics, though of a very different order of intensity. The older man is a member of Opus Dei, the secretive Catholic prelature to which FBI Director Freeh has also been reported to belong, and an organization to which the movies in the past year have not been kind. Both Hanssen and his wife Bonnie (Kathleen Quinlan) proselytize in a manner that hovers between cloying and menacing, and their religiosity threatens to drive a wedge between O?Neill and his pretty young East German wife Juliana (Caroline Dhavernas), a gal who would rather go to a movie than to mass.
When Hanssen is not spying, betraying, or praying, his thoughts turn to sex. He?s obsessed with Catherine Zeta-Jones, he?s a fan of internet porn, and he sends a friend videotapes he?s captured on a camera hidden in his bedroom of himself and Bonnie in flagrante delicto.
Director Billy Ray (a man who appears to be working with only part of a name) shapes this tale of treason as an existential issue. We never really know what led Robert Hanssen to do the things he did. His betrayal compromised networks of undercover resources, revealed to the Russians the secret locations where the President and top government officials would be taken in a state of emergency, earned him well over a million dollars in payoffs, cost his country billions and untold security disasters, and led directly to the execution of at least two Russian officers who had been turned by the FBI.
Why? Was it cupidity? Payback for colleagues he considered less capable who had been promoted above him, given corner offices while he labored in a windowless room? Was it emotional issues that went back to his harsh upbringing? Ultimately, the movie suggests, what doe it matter?
Talking about the motives of the CIA traitor Aldrich Ames, who was unmasked in 1994, Hanssen says ?What good does speculating do? He spied. The why doesn?t mean a thing, does it?"
Breach is dogged on occasion by clunky dialogue (Hanssen tells O?Neill a story about his father fixing his first driving test. O?Neill: ?So you?d pass?? Hanssen: ?So I would fail.?) The movie is clothed in institutional drabness, and its outcome is foreordained. But Ray (who previously directed Shattered Glass, another true story of trust, deception, and betrayal) keeps it credible, and in avoiding the frippery of cinematic artifice, he drives home the banality of evil.
© Text 2007 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be