Wednesday, February 21, 2007

REVIEW: Breach

"Breach" is best-described as the "guy movie" version of "The Devil Wears Prada." Strip away the basic trappings and it's a character-driven "boss from hell" story elevated by the twist that the business happens to be FBI cloak-and-dagger and the boss happens to be Robert Hanssen, notorious as possibly the single greatest (and certainly most-damaging) traitor to the United States since Benedict Arnold.

Hanssen is central to the film, and is embodied by Chris Cooper in what I'm comfortable calling the best performance of his impressive career to date. But the actual story follows Eric O'Neill, (Ryan "see?? Told you I could act!" Phillipe,) the young agent in training plucked from routine surveillance duty and drafted to be the "mole" for an elite task force who are positive that Hanssen has been selling major secrets to enemy nations for decades but just can't catch him. It's his job to distract and monitor the almost supernaturally-alert Hanssen while the agents build their case, which entails getting alarmingly deep into Hanssen's complex and dangerous world.

There's great, sharp work here both by Phillipe and Laura Linney as O'Neil's secret superior, but the film is dominated by Cooper's powerful, endearing yet intensely unnerving turn as Hanssen. This is a villian who exudes control and contempt over all situations in which he's present, but in Cooper's hands the scariest thing about Hanssen is the lurking reminder that all this coiled rage and quiet power are a mere shadow of what he could be if he wasn't such a sad-sack. He makes Hanssen into a would-be Atlas near his breaking point, straining under the crushing weight of his hurt-pride at being passed-over for career advancement and the explicitly Catholic guilt he feels at having pride to hurt in the first place... to say nothing of his myriad more tangible indiscretions. His indignation is expressed in mumbled half-tones, his clothing, skin and smile droop wearily from a tired frame, his hair is a sickly gray... and yet we're still terrified whenever it seems O'Neill is about to be discovered - even though it's not clear that Hanssen has any actual lethality in him.

The film maintains a focus on it's characters their intensely-insular circumstances, never trending over the line to try and make too many larger points or messages about it's story. One couldn't ask for a more potentially politically-loaded setup than the true story of an ultra-devout Opus Dei Catholic FBI agent who's also a traitor to the country, but the film lets all of that speak for Hanssen's character and motivation. Chris Cooper, above all else, needs to be on everybody's short list for next years Best Actor prizes. Highly reccomended.