Internal Espionage

Director Billy Ray’s 2003 sleeper hit, “Shattered Glass,” hardly dramatized the truth. His new film, “Breach,” follows in this tradition proving to be a stellar film through its brilliant acting and well-paced, focused story.

“Breach” tells the true story of Robert Hanssen, a renowned FBI operative who secretly sold classified U.S. intelligence to Russia for 22 years.

He was finally brought down in February of 2001, which kicks off the film before backtracking to tell the story of Eric O’Neill, a key player in the internal investigation of Hanssen at the Bureau.

O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe) was approached by his superiors at the Bureau to become a spy for their investigation of Hanssen’s (Chris Cooper) inappropriate online sexual behavior after they moved Hanssen back to their Washington, D.C. office.

Working as his assistant, O’Neill is tasked to document everything Hanssen does, who he talks to, and his behavior in a journal to be submitted nightly to his immediate supervisor, Special Agent Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney).

Hanssen, a grizzled veteran uninterested in his new position and opposed to the help of an assistant, at first grills O’Neill, intimidating him and scaring him to the verge of nearly quitting.

After proving his worth, O’Neill and Hanssen find common interests and create a healthy working and personal relationship, the strength of which even causes O’Neill to question the true intent of his investigation.

It isn’t until he is fully briefed that “Breach” picks up tension, as the weight of the investigation and its grand scale become a huge burden for O’Neill, forcing him to live in lies and deceit from both his wife Juliana and Hanssen.

Phillippe’s role in “Breach” is very similar to the one he played in the 2001 movie “Antitrust,” but his skills have improved dramatically since, and he thrives alongside Cooper, whose menacing attitude and fear-inducing glare result in a truly convincing performance.

“Breach” was built around the roles of Hanssen and O’Neill, and without the chemistry of Phillippe and Cooper, the movie would have collapsed under itself.

O’Neill’s character is constantly compelling, as he has to balance three major relationships with Hanssen, Juliana, and the FBI.

The mystery of Hanssen keeps the movie going, as his growing trust in O’Neill almost contradicts the basis of his 25-year career.

Though “Breach” is reportedly a very accurate retelling of the true story on which it’s based, as is the style of director Ray, its strength as a film is almost handicapped by the medium of its reenactment.

The speed with which Hanssen finds O’Neill as a trustworthy confidant almost betrays the nature of his character and the competence of his deception.

Hanssen was a man who eluded the FBI so well during his long career, that at one time he was put in charge of the internal investigation unit focused on identifying the mole in the Bureau, but in “Breach” it’s as if the few times O’Neill challenges him quickly validate his trust.

“Breach” is definitely a good film with strong performances, but it ultimately misses a level of believability that could have made it a phenomenal, must-see drama.