Moving briskly from equivocator Stephen Glass to the chairman of the Benedict Arnold Fan Club, Robert Hanssen, director Billy Ray turns his tonal focus from Shattered Glass's journalistic felony to high crime in the intelligence agency. In what seems to be a new trend of cinematically capturing events before they have actually played out, Breach reenacts what is widely accepted as the greatest fracture of FBI security in the history of the organization.
Following possible terrorists and their contacts, Eric O'Neil (Ryan Phillipe
) eagerly tries to discuss bureau protocol with his team, only to be ignored and have his well-prepared report on the subject shoved back in his face. That is, until he is dragged into a bureau conference room on a Sunday to meet with his superior and head agent Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney
). It's here that O'Neil is asked to shadow Russian intelligence specialist Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper
) for what is originally agreed to be sexually perverse activities. It isn't till O'Neil is taken under wing by the intelligence expert that Burroughs reveals that Hanssen has actually been selling information to the Russians for some time and has cost the government billions of dollars and uncountable agent lives. Article continues below
Though not without its one-liners and a panorama of politically-current quips, Breach delicately solidifies the tone and urgency of Billy Ray
's first film, Shattered Glass. The severity of the crime of course behooves Breach to be a more serious and suspenseful film than Shattered Glass, but it's in the calmer scenes that Ray best shows his maturation in style. In a devastatingly simple scene, Hanssen talks about his father with O'Neil, gently implying his father's psychological games while also ignoring the fact that O'Neil has been snooping on his home computer. The scene is calibrated to perfection, introducing and concluding several notes without blatantly addressing them in the speech.
The scene's success, and indeed the film's success, has much to do with the actors chosen for the part: Cooper's reliable stoic intensity and brooding emotional weight has never been as palpable as it is here, and Phillipe excels at bringing equal measures of nervy admiration, fear, and hidden professionalism to the role of O'Neil. Linney doesn't do anything above-and-beyond, but when she explains her isolationism as so extreme that "I don't even own a cat!" it's a moment of pure humor that's hard to resist.
A new style in cinema has turned the espionage thriller into something that stresses the quiet moments over superfluous explosions. Though it wasn't fully successful in Robert De Niro
's The Good Shepard
, it finds fertile ground in Breach where the villain isn't some crazed euro-trash dynamo with ten guns more than he needs. Here, the bad guy is a neglected right-wing grandfather and family man who thinks he's an unappreciated genius. For all intents and purposes, the outer shell of Hanssen is what most family-oriented men strain to become. Real or not, the story being told in Breach vibrantly echoes current fears and alludes that all our blame and reasoning might be pointed in the wrong direction.