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DVD Review: Breach

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Breach is the true story about the F.B.I.'s capture of the worst spy in American history — and one of it's own — one Robert Hanssen. But this is much more than a tale about the cloak and dagger intricacies of espionage. It is also a riveting character study of Hanssen himself, who is brilliantly portrayed as a deeply conflicted man — one who is equal parts genius and sociopath — by Oscar winner Chris Cooper.

Hanssen is a guy who wears the same conservative suit daily, and who attends church every single day like clockwork. Although he admits that the Russians are smarter and more devious, he chalks up their downfall to their "godlessness." This is a guy who has a cross on his office wall, and keeps religious icons on his desk. What makes all of this so fascinating is that this doesn't appear to be a cover at all — the apparent patriotism and religious devotion appear to be absolutely genuine. You want conservative? This guy's favorite band is the Andrews Sisters.

But lying beneath the surface of this postcard for family values, there are secrets. What good is a spy story without them, right? Here is a guy with more dualities than a pair of Siamese twins. Hanssen is portrayed here as a brilliant, but deeply bitter man. By day his life is religiously ordered, while by night he secretly makes home pornos of rough sex with his wife, without her knowledge. At work, he is impersonal in his relationships with subordinates, as well as authoritarian and anal retentive to a fault. He is also a computer genius who the movie paints as equally frustrated and misunderstood. If there ever was a sympathetic portrayal of a creepy guy, this is it.

On the other side of the coin, we get Ryan Phillippe's turn as Eric O'Neill, the agent who brought Hanssen down. O'Neill is portrayed by Phillippe as an immediately likeable, if somewhat cocky guy. But his heart of hearts appears to be in all the right places. He loves his wife deeply, and he is morally conflicted at first when he feels that the F.B.I.'s case against Hanssen is bullshit. Playing the gopher to Hanssen's boss, O'Neill respects him even if there doesn't appear to be much to like about him.

From here, the movie weaves a tale that is as much about trust as it is about anything else. The paranoia runs very deep here — not just in the cloak and dagger sense, but in the personal relationships involved as well. Why doesn't O'Neill trust his wife? And how does O'Neill gain the trust of Hanssen — a boss who by this time is begrudgingly growing to like him even as he tests his loyalty pretty much every second of the way?

The one thing that bugged me throughout this movie was the way it failed to reveal the motivations behind Hanssen's apparent treachery toward America in selling out his country to the very "godless" Russians he seems to be so dead set against. The clues offered for this elusive motive throughout the movie are mostly subtle ones. It was never about money it seems — but more about ego. Until he is caught, Hanssen covers his tracks in the same meticulous way that the most clinical serial killer does.

And although I loved this movie, the way it finally paid off by answering that question was a classic case of a cheap Hollywood cop out. Hanssen looks as fiendishly deranged as Hannibal Lechter as he asks O'Neill to "pray for me" in the film's final scene.

Still, as a tightly woven reality based psychological thriller, Breach succeeds on every level in holding you by the edge of your seat throughout it's just under two hour running time. Extras on the DVD include deleted scenes and a profile of the Hanssen case that originally ran on NBC's news magazine Dateline.

Breach will be available this Tuesday in video stores.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
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