MOVIE: Breach (2007)

Before I get into the movie review, I wanted to announce that while I put in over 70 hours of physical labor last week while on “vacation” trying to paint the exterior of my house, WE ARE STILL NOT DONE WITH PAINTING THE EXTERIOR OF OUR HOUSE. The words “shoot me now” leap immediately to mind.

I tell you this for one reason and one reason alone, and that is to urge you always, ALWAYS to choose debt over labor. Learn from me! Do not make this mistake yourself! Had we known then what we know now (which is that this is the kind of job done by 22 year olds for a very good reason), we would’ve loaded up the credit card and hired this puppy out to some young’uns. Because, lo, does painting a house ever suck ass. Pardon my French.

In any case, I also wanted to mention this so you’d know why I’m only posting this movie review today, when in reality I watched this movie last Wednesday.

The better news is that this is the one truly GOOD movie I watched last week, hallelujah! It’s based on the true story of Robert Hanssen (played by chameleon Chris Cooper, whose children I would still love to give birth to, incidentally), an FBI agent who was arrested in 2001 for espionage. And when I say “espionage,” I’m not referring to a little minor spying here and there — instead, Hanssen is widely recognized to be one of the worst, most destructive spies of all time. He was indirectly responsible for the murders of at least three Russian double-agents after he ratted them out (actually, maybe that makes him directly responsible, not indirectly so), and he sold an absolutely astonishing number of secrets to the Soviets over a period of two and a half decades as well.

The movie begins two months before his arrest, and tells the story of Robert’s last eight weeks of freedom from the perspective of a young Feebie named Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe), a computer specialist assigned to work as Hanssen’s clerk in order to get close to him and help the muckity-mucks obtain evidence of his wrong-doings. O’Neill’s goal is to become a full-fledged agent, and so he jumps at the chance to impress his superiors by accepting the role. But the more time he spends with Hanssen, the more disillusioned with the whole system he becomes, and ultimately, after Hanssen’s arrest and conviction, O’Neill leaves the FBI to become a lawyer instead.

What I liked about this movie was that it moved very steadily and almost quietly, not playing any of this story out for cheap thrills. There are several nail-biting scenes of suspense, but for the most part, this is a character study, and the characters are brilliantly brought to life by both Cooper and Phillippe. Hanssen is portrayed as a very “normal” family man who attends mass every day and, rather ironically, very openly frowns upon any moral failings in his colleagues. As the movie progresses, however, we come to realize that all this is merely a facade. In reality, Hanssen is incredibly bitter about the lack of advancement in his career, and he has taken out his bitterness on the entire nation by selling as many secrets as he can for as much money as he can get (though money didn’t really seem to be his goal). Phillippe, as the rookie O’Neill, does his greatest acting work ever, in my opinion. I’ve never been much of a fan of Ryan’s, but this movie finally demonstrated he’s got a bit of talent tucked away in there somewhere. He ought to bring it out more often.

I wasn’t at all surprised to learn this film was directed by the same guy who directed Shattered Glass, the movie about reporter (or, “fauxporter” as I like to call newsmen of his ilk), Stephen Glass. The two movies are very similar — procedural-but-very-suspenseful films about liars. Both movies are excellent, and they’d make a great double-feature! You know, if you really really want to bum yourself out about how low some people will go to feel important.

Genre: Thriller/Espionage

Cast: Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney, Gary Cole, Dennis Haysbert, Bruce Davidson

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