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Directed by Billy Ray ("Shattered Glass").
Written by Adam Mazer, William Rotko and Billy Ray.
Starring Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney and Dennis Haysbert.

Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  2/14/07


Ross and I went to check out a free screening of "Breach" last night at the Mazza Gallerie theater downtown, and as an added bonus in icy weather, the film's director, star and co-creator were at the film to conduct a Q&A that was maybe the best Q&A I have attended in quite a while.  Of course, it helped that the film is so well done.

"Breach" follows the final two months of the FBI's investigation into the affairs of one Robert Hanssen (played here by Academy Award winner Chris Cooper), who was suspected of conducting so much spy work for the Russians that he may have committed the worst act of treason in the history of the U.S.   As strange as this is to believe, the feds pinned the hopes of their biggest internal takedown case ever on a young-but-on-the-rise operative named Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe), who was assigned to be Hanssen's clerk once Hanssen was reassigned from the field to run a made-up operations division in December 2000.  Over the course of the two months that Eric worked with Hanssen, he had to become very close with his new boss, including the need to align closely with Hanssen's religious beliefs and strange sexual habits in addition to taking notes on nearly everything Hanssen said or did, in notes that were sent to a liaison at the Bureau (played here by Laura Linney).

"Breach", according to co-writer & directory Billy Ray after the film finished, is meant to be the story of O'Neill, and how the case nearly broke him as a man, as a husband (his wife, played in the film by Caroline Dhavernas, almost left him over the whole affair) and as an FBI agent while trying to break this big treason case.  However, the film itself would have been a better case for the O'Neill angle had a more capable actor than Phillippe played O'Neill.  As it stands, though, I think "Breach" works better as a story about Hanssen, and because of Phillippe's mid-range talent, you as a viewer get to concentrate on Cooper's performance, which was excellent and really is portrayed by Cooper as just a guy, not as an evil, bad guy but as a guy who is a bit misguided.  The fact that, until the very end of his free days, he doesn't appear to really be a bad person--his old-school personality and prickly demeanor aside, he appears to be a solid family man, hard worker, technical expert and Sunday-morning regular--makes the Cooper performance stand out as one where you really do buy that Hanssen fooled everyone he worked with for years just as he was selling us out every year.

Add in Linney--when has she ever been bad?--and bit roles for Dennis Haysbert, Bruce Davison, Gary Cole and Kathleen Quinlan, and you've got a solid supporting cast that is full of veterans who add a lot of weight to everything about the film.  The film is set in Washington, and even though the majority of the flick was shot in Canada, "Breach" gets points for having many of its key scenes shot in the greater DC area and in Virginia, including the film's finale when Hanssen is caught, shot on the same street corner where the real-life Hanssen was arrested.  In general, I liked the mainly-bland, gray world that "Breach" seems to be set in; during the dead of winter, this works wonders when matched with the is-he-or-isn't-he plotting of the story of Hanssen.

"Breach" isn't perfect--again, I thought that the O'Neill/Hanssen balance was mainly good but I would have actually preferred the story balance to tilt slightly more towards Hanssen, who simply is the most intriguing story in the movie (if not the FBI's last 30 years, since the guy was running secrets back and forth behind our back for quite a while).  But, the filmmaking is solid and this is one you should check out when it makes its way to theaters this weekend.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09