BREACH directed by Billy Ray, written by Ray, Adam Mazer and William Rotko, with Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe and Laura Linney. A Universal release. 111 minutes. Opens Friday (February 16). For venues and times, see Movies, page 78. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
I am getting really, really tired of movies that start at the end. The device basically kills all narrative drive.
Breach begins with documentary footage of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (the film is set in 2001) announcing the arrest of FBI analyst Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), and then jumps back two months to the recruitment of Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe) as Hanssen's "assistant" within the FBI.
The film is very well made, with a great performance by Cooper as a man slowly rotting from within because of the tensions between his beliefs and his actions.
But it isn't exactly a thriller, despite what the trailers show, and the central character is the slightly dull, ambitious young aspiring agent played by Phillippe, when the more intriguing character by far is the villain.
The story should have focused on Hanssen and Laura Linney's Agent Kate Burroughs, who recruits and runs O'Neill. Duelling obsessives are always a fun dramatic conceit.
Like The Good Shepherd, Universal's other espionage film, Breach has the tone of a hushed mouse creeping through the corridors of power. Director Billy Ray used a similar structure in Shattered Glass, which was also about someone leading a deceptive life, but in that film the duel between fraudulent, ambitious young reporter and dismayed editor did centre on the two most interesting characters.
Phillippe isn't a bad actor, but he's fairly lightweight and hasn't been given a whole lot to work with here. Cooper, a rare actor who gets more interesting with age, basically seizes any scene that isn't nailed down and shakes it in his teeth. If nobody's fighting for space in a scene, a strong performer will just take it.