After reading and watching news coverage of the recent Trump/Putin summit in Helsinki, I found myself wanting to watch a good espionage movie. I came across a 2007 movie called Breach on Netflix. Starring Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillipe and Laura Linney and directed by Billy Ray, Breach tells the true story of Robert Hanssen, a veteran FBI agent arrested in 2001 and accused of spying for the USSR/Russia over a period of decades. Though not the greatest example of the genre, Breach was a pretty engrossing spy story about the biggest security breach in U.S. history (to date.)
Chris Cooper does a great portraying the dower Hanssen, who is presented as morose hypocritical moralist, supposedly a strong Catholic yet living a life of lies and betrayal. Ryan Phillipe is a decent actor but slightly less compelling in his role as the young FBI agent assigned to spy on the spy and expose his activities. Laura Linney is a very good actress but here she plays a cliche stock character...the tough as nails female FBI boss.
As mentioned, Hanssen is portrayed as a outwardly strong Catholic who attends Mass every day, prays the rosary faithfully and tries to inspire Eric O’Neill to become a better Catholic. It’s unfortunate that faith does not come off well in this movie and perhaps the writers went out of their way to portray the church in a bad light but, it is also fascinating to watch a character who is so outwardly spiritual, betray everything he supposedly believes in. In that regard the movie provides a scathing expose of religious hypocrisy.
An understated and effective score that keeps the tension pulled tight in the movie’s more intense scenes.
The writer and director do a good job of conveying the story with clarity, good pacing and enough dramatic twists to keep the viewer engaged. There are several taut scenes in which O’Neill’s cover is almost blown and the operation nearly exposed. But I didn’t completely buy the relationship between Hanssen and O’Neill or the idea that Hanssen could have been fooled so easily by O’Neill’s cover.
It’s a good looking movie shot in a low key manner which matched the seeming ordinariness of the main character. No chase scenes or pyrotechnics here, just well composed and tightly edited scenes.
Breach was an entertaining spy story, made disturbing by the fact that it is based on true events, but as I mentioned, I wanted to understand more about the character’s inner motivations. What would bring a 25 year veteran of the FBI to betray his country? Sure, there was a sense that Hanssen felt disrespected by and superior to his colleagues, but it’s hard to believe that this alone could drive someone to such deep betrayal. The public may never know the the harm caused by Hanssen’s treachery and the filmmakers have no great insights into what made him do it.