Sunday, June 24, 2007

Movie Review: "Breach"

Starring Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney, Caroline Dhavernas, Gary Cole, Dennis Haysbert, Kathleen Quinlan
Directed by Billy Ray

Official Web site

Having carved out an impressive resume of supporting performances in highly regarded films such as “Seabiscuit,” “Adaptation” and “American Beauty,” it’s good to see the under appreciated actor Chris Cooper get the rare opportunity to tackle a leading role in “Breach,” portraying a double agent of the FBI who spent years fooling everybody, including himself.

Based on a true story, the perfectly cast Cooper plays Robert Hanssen, a 25-year veteran of the FBI, who would spend much of that career selling secrets to the Russians, both during and after the Cold War. His years of betrayal are widely considered the largest and most costly security breach in American intelligence history.

Obviously, anybody who is capable of being such an effective mole for so long, has to be an expert in deception. And Cooper plays Hanssen as a cold, calculated, yet devout Catholic, who seems to almost be trying to point out the flaws in the U.S. intelligence agencies through his damaging actions.

Although Hanssen is the driving force in the movie, the story is told through the eyes of FBI operative Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe), who is recruited by the bureau to serve as Hanssen’s assistant. Told by his FBI contact (Laura Linney) to be the eyes and ears of their ongoing investigation into Hanssen’s activities, O’Neill isn’t initially aware of just how widespread and damaging the case has become. Early on, he believes the FBI just wants to bust Hanssen on being a sexual deviant. It’s only as he gets closer to Hanssen, even developing admiration and respect for the veteran agent, that he learns the true depth of his duplicity.

Portraying an agent who has spent years staying at least one step ahead of his colleagues, Cooper dominates most every scene he is in. Whether it’s with a cold, icy stare or verbally dressing down his new assistant, Cooper shows a person who is not trusting by nature (and for good reason). Ironically, that building of trust with O’Neill helped lead to his downfall and eventual capture by authorities in 2001.

Director Billy Ray (who made 2003’s “Shattered Glass,” a superior movie also involving a deceptive character at its center) does a good job at building the tension of the growing investigation. Yet, the movie, billed as a thriller, is mostly short on thrills. Also, a subplot involving the strain the investigation is placing on O’Neill and his wife (Caroline Dhavernas) doesn’t really do much but distract from the film’s primary focus.

However, when the film puts the spotlight on Cooper is when its at its strongest. Cooper’s eyes suggest a man who is realizing his career is coming to an end – and not just because he’s nearing retirement age. Hanssen’s capture doesn’t even seem to come as a surprise to him. Rather, it seems to be more of an inevitability.

Ultimately, Cooper’s performance is the glue that holds the picture together. Too bad it will likely be forgotten, come Oscar nomination time.

Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual content and language.)

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