**** (out of 5)
February 16, 2007
Chris Cooper as ROBERT HANSSEN
Ryan Phillippe as ERIC O’NIELL
Laura Linney as KATE BURROUGHS
Caroline Dhavernas as JULIANA O’NEILL
Gary Cole as RICH GARCES
Dennis Haysbert as DAN PLESAC
Kathleen Quinlan as BONNIE HANSSEN
Directed by: Billy Ray
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I’m not a huge fan of films that are proudly billed as being “based on a true story.” In Hollywood-speak, this is only slightly more historically accurate than “inspired by a true story,” which is reserved for movies that deviate so far from the original story that even studio execs can’t keep a straight face.
So I tend to be a bit suspicious of any movie that carries a “true story” moniker.
Like anyone who is the product of the American public school system, my readily accessible knowledge of history and current events isn’t as good as it should be. Although “Breach” is based on events that happened in 2001, I am sad to say that I was not familiar with them.
However, after doing my exhaustive research (read as: I looked it up on Wikipedia.org), I was actually pretty surprised to see that “Breach” seems to follow pretty closely to the truth. Oh, I’m sure that there have been plenty of liberties taken with the plot, but to have the script’s plot points follow pretty closely to the main information tags in a general encyclopedia article is actually a stunner for Hollywood.
“Breach” tells the story of how the FBI took down Robert Hanssen, the worst spy in U.S. history. Hanssen had been giving up national secrets to the Russians since the 1980s, making him responsible for the deaths of untold agents. This isn’t much of a spoiler, considering this is broadcast throughout the trailers, and the movie itself opens with archive footage of Attorney General John Ashcroft talking about Hanssen’s arrest.
The movie actually focuses less on Hanssen (played expertly by Chris Cooper) and more on FBI upstart Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe), the agent assigned to cover Hanssen. This is really the movie’s only major fault, leaving the bulk of the acting to Phillippe rather than Cooper. Still, we get plenty of Chris Cooper on the screen to make up with Ryan Phillippe struggling to act his guts out through most of the movie.
Rather than being a high-action thriller, “Breach” is more of a slow burn through the night. It has a steady build to the inevitable and predictable end. I commend the filmmakers for offering a sense of realism and soberness over the tempting car chase you might see in a Bruce Willis film.
Ultimately, the film works best in the cheapest shots it could do – two people talking in a car, for example. Rather than resting the film on action and explosions, it allows its actors to breathe and act. And even to this end, a bit of Cooper’s decent acting rubs off on Phillippe, making the ex-Mr. Witherspoon sufferable.
The rest of the cast is surprisingly competent. The normally tepid Laura Linney is still tepid, but it works for her character. She manages to get out-acted by Phillippe at times, which is sad for her. Other nice supporting roles come from Dennis Haysbert and Gary Cole.
I was a bit nervous about this film because it seemed to fall into an early spring formula we’ve seen in films like last year’s “16 Blocks.” It’s not a monumental feat in filmmaking, but it does a fine job for suspense buffs and fans of the political thriller.