Breach is the true story of the FBI’s takedown of former agent Robert Hanssen, the man responsible for the United States’ greatest security breach, as told by Eric O’Neill, the agent who worked most closely beside him during the final days before his arrest.
O’Neill gets assigned to an undercover operation, which has him working as an assistant to Hanssen, who is revamping the bureau’s information security systems. O’Neill is led to believe he is investigating Hanssen because of sexual deviancy. As they work alongside each other and he gets to know him away from the office, O’Neill doubts his mission in part because Hanssen is such a devout Catholic. His superiors inform him of the true nature of the operation: Hanssen is suspected of providing information to the Russians for well over a decade. However, they don’t have the evidence they need. O’Neill continues the charade, putting a strain on his relationship with his wife, who can’t handle the overbearing Hanssens in their lives. Hanssen is finally arrested at a drop spot on February 18, 2001.
The best element of Breach is the acting. Chris Cooper as Hanssen once again delivers a brilliant performance. It’s a pleasure to watch a man so good at his craft. Ryan Phillippe plays O’Neill and is impressive as he holds his own with Cooper. The limitations of some young actors get revealed when they act in scenes with their more gifted elders, like Brad Pitt with Morgan Freeman in Se7en, but in this film, through a combination of both men’s abilities and the characters as written in the script, they achieve a balance.
Billy Ray is an actor’s director. The photography and editing are unobtrusive. He wisely hires talented people and gets out of their way, allowing the camera to record their performances. Not to imply that he doesn’t do anything, as if filming a stage play and just turning the camera on, but his decisions show he is focused on presenting the story rather than his directing.
The extras include an extremely informative commentary track by Ray and the real-life O’Neill. As a film rather than a documentary, creative choices were obviously made to tell this story under two hours. O’Neill provides details of the actual events as Ray explains the creation of the film. There are 18 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes with commentary by Ray and editor Jeffrey Ford. “Breaching The Truth” has the principals explain how the story became a film. “Anatomy of A Character” looks at how Chris Cooper and others created the role of Hanssen. Volkswagen sponsored this feature. It’s an interesting marketing strategy, being unobtrusive yet reaching many people. In a great example of synergy by NBC Universal, “The Mole” is a news segment from NBC’s Dateline that aired on March 5, 2001. Chris Hansen is the reporter, years before his claim to fame as the host of “To Catch a Predator.”
Breach is a good spy thriller, although the realism of the job might not captivate viewers expecting James Bond. There are no imaginative gadgets, wild stunts, and sex scenes, rather basic investigative work and quick thinking, which is equally impressive. Anyone could handle the wild adventures of exotic locations, but what is impressive are the agents’ performance of required, mundane routines day in and day out. Although O’Neill’s story is one small chapter in the Robert Hanssen saga, Breach is a great place to start.