March 2, 2007

Breach (03/02/07)

Lettergrade: B

While technically it's an espionage / spy thriller, most everything about Breach is muted and grounded in reality. I really appreciated that because I have a feeling that movies like this -- with strong actors and good writing -- can easily get all Bruckheimered out if special care is not taken. The picture is part FBI procedural, and part character study. It's not what you could really call a character piece, but it's a fascinating story and a pretty decent movie.

The film is based on the real-life events of Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), a long-term Russian Intelligence analyst for the FBI who for years secretly sold highly classified information to the former Soviet Union: The most severe intelligence breach in U.S. history. The plot centers around Hanssen's last two months before mandatory retirement and the young agent (played by Ryan Phillippe) who was instrumental in the events that led up to Hanssen getting busted.

Cooper plays Hanssen as a man loaded with contradictions. He proclaims himself both deeply religious and unwaveringly patriotic, although he clearly knows he is behaving in ways that are decidedly neither.

At times, the contradictions are so extreme that they push the limits of dramatic plausibility somewhat. For example, Hanssen starts off as a real paranoid, hard-ass son-of-a-bitch during Phillippe's first few days on the job. Eventually, this wears away and Hanssen gleefully welcomes Phillippe and his wife (Caroline Dhavernas) to his house for a Norman Rockwell style Sunday supper complete with Cosby sweater. Then -- at work a few days later -- Hanssen slips right back into paranoid OCD mode once more with seemingly little motivation to do so. In a way, I think these weird personality shifts are somewhat the point, but I couldn't help but feel like the connective tissue is missing that would have made this guy seem like more a real person and less like a series of collected observations on Hanssen (the character Phillippe plays was a real-life consultant on the film).

Another interesting thing is that we are never given a clear sense of what exactly Hanssen has been leaking and what it means to our national security, other than that it is "really important." I'm sure a lot of this has to do with the fact that a good deal of what Hanssen sold to the former U.S.S.R. is still classified to us civilian folk. Still, though, one has to wonder that if the info Hanssen leaked is unknown, and if Hanssen's motivations are unclear and nebulous (the real Hanssen, now in Federal prison, refuses to disclose anything on the subject)... are we looking at a factual representation of something that really happened in contemporary American history or is it just a good thriller that happens to share some variables with actual events?

Whatever the case, both Cooper and Phillippe do a fine job. The always lovely Laura Linney is also in the picture, although she is a bit more "one note" than I've seen her previously. The main weak link in cast is Caroline Dhavernas, who says she's East German but whose accent ranges from "no accent" to "vaguely Swedish with bizarre, unclassified speech impediment."

Minor gripes aside, however, it _is_ a picture worth seeing, and a welcome breath of fresh air after weeks of seeing ads for shit like Ghost Rider and Norbit.

No comments:

Post a Comment