There's nothing particularly wrong with Breach, the story about the surveillance and capture of FBI agent Robert Hanssen, the biggest intelligence security offense in US history, but it's not as gripping as it could have been.
Chris Cooper appears yet again as a stern, humourless government man, senior FBI agent Robert Hanssen. Hanssen attends mass every day and otherwise appears to lead an exemplary lifestyle, despite his arrogance and rudeness. Ryan Phillippe plays a junior FBI employee hoping to make it to agent, who is enlisted to spy on Hanssen. Together, they end up in an office in which they are supposed to plan out a new way for the bureau to handle electronic case data.
Both Phillippe and Cooper are adequate in their roles, but the scowling Cooper brings nothing new to a role that he has seemingly played a million times in other films, such as the Bourne series. It just seems that we're watching the same guy from any number of Cooper films. It would be an understatement to say that he is consistent in his characters. There seems to be a ceiling with Phillippe's acting abilities and it seems that they could have picked someone with a bit more depth. He lacks the inner fire to really seem like someone playing cat and mouse with a master cat. Laura Linney plays the agent handler for Phillippe's character, Eric O'Neill, and she is superb in all her scenes.
There's a lack of unpredictable tension. Every possible conflict has been seen before and their outcomes are already known. No surprises. The script doesn't tell the story about how Hanssen became a turncoat or why he did it. Now, that would have been interesting. Hanssen was a member of Opus Dei, and his brother-in-law, who also worked for the FBI, told the bureau back in 1990 that Hanssen should be investigated for spying after discovering unusual amounts of cash in Hanssen's home. We also didn't see any of Hanssen's relationship with a stripper, who he was apparently trying to get "closer to God." You wonder if they couldn't have included more background on Hanssen's motives and yet still kept the film to a reasonable length.
This isn't an action thriller by any means. It has more in common with the cerebral CIA birth film, The Good Shepherd, than, say, The Bourne Identity. On the other hand, one could say that by focusing on the overall life of Robert Hanssen, this isn't a run of the mill spy film. Either way, it's not as compelling as it could have been.
Director Billy Ray has ten films under his belt as writer, but this is his second outing in the director's chair, having debuted with Shattered Glass. His screenplays include Flightplan, Suspect Zero, Volcano, and Hart's War. Breach also stars Dennis Haysbert (President Palmer from 24), who appears yet again as a government "man."