U.S. Release Date: February 16, 2007
Distributor: Universal
Director: Billy Ray
Writer: Billy Ray
Producer: Sidney Kimmel (executive), Jeffrey Silver (co-producer)
Composer: Mychael Danna
Cast: Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney
Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (violence, sexual content and language)

Holier Feds Than Thou
by Scott Holleran

Writer and director Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Flightplan) brings a fictionalized story about spy Robert Hanssen to the screen in Breach starring Chris Cooper as the traitor to his nation. He does so by carefully tracking the road to Hanssen's capture, facilitated by a young clerk played by Ryan Phillippe, in a tight character study.

Knowing the outcome lessens the suspense, but Ray uses claustrophobic close-ups in a deliberate, daisy chain of small events involving Hanssen, a devout Catholic who guides the fresh-faced charge into orthodox Catholicism, complete with an all-kneeling Latin mass and a spousal birthing vessel (Kathleen Quinlan) with the brains of a limp noodle.

Phillippe's character, assigned by Laura Linney's starched superior under false pretenses, pretends to accept Hanssen's faith and he taps his non-believer bride to attend church services to nab his man and advance toward agent status. Does he actually admire the Soviet-linked spy, who routinely denounces homosexuals, atheism and women in pants? Possibly, answers Breach, with Mr. Cooper giving a strong performance as a character that's practically composed of posturing and pithy lines. His Hanssen seems to know exactly what's going on in every tense moment.

When it comes to morality as a guide to human action, you're on your own, this whispery tale proposes, and, except for Mr. Cooper putting on his best sourpuss, that idea comes off stagy and rehearsed. Breach shuts the blinds on the cost of Hanssen's treachery, but for a temporary flash, and the magnitude of his treason is not depicted.

Delving instead into Phillippe's ambitious clerk's careerism and Mr. Cooper's Catholic moralism, this taut spy match exists to deconstruct the main characters, which limits the scope. Beginning with a clip of former Attorney General John Ashcroft and the changing portraits of those philosophically interchangeable presidents Clinton and Bush—a smooth touch to convey the idea that while Washington players change, murky morality remains the same—through a fierce confrontation at Rock Creek Park, suspense builds from the mystery of motive.

Neat, trim and paced like a precision covert operation, Breach sprinkles the way with enticing clues—look for a nod to The Da Vinci Code—but delivers an agnostic theme that everyone in the game wins and loses and maybe the prize isn't worth fighting for. That the prize is national security seems lost on Billy Ray.

Breach is 100 percent Mr. Cooper's Robert Hanssen, a southern-accented accomplice to communist Russia with a sexual fetish, whose trespass, by his standards, lies in having uttered and believed the very un-Catholic phrase, "I matter plenty," the sin of pride. Power corrupts man absolutely, Breach holds, and every man is susceptible to corruption.

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