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: $9.50 Show
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$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
"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 bad...man, 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
"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