Breach – DVD Review

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Own it on DVD June 12, 2007


Billy Ray


Chris Cooper……….Robert Hanssen
Ryan Phillippe……….Eric O’Neill
Laura Linney……….Kate Burroughs

The Movie

If there ever was a victim of bad timing, Breach would be it. Initially set to be a prestige picture for the winter of 2006. The problem was that Universal Studios was also the same studio releasing The Good Shepherd.

Breach had a similar storyline and was in the same genre as the De Niro helmed spy thriller. It was pushed forward as a first quarter release in 2007 so that The Good Shepherd could have a greater chance of winning some major awards during a rather weak film crop at the end of the year, which it ultimately did not.

And it’s a shame, really, as Breach is in many ways as good as or superior to The Good Shepherd. It also features Chris Cooper in performance that will most likely get overlooked by the end of 2007 but is going to be hard to match by year’s end. The film is also likely to be amongst the year’s best when all is said and done due to Cooper as well as one of the best scripts of the past several years. It’s just a shame it came out to theatres so early and onto DVD amidst the summer movie season, overlooked because of the winter doldrums of the former and the blockbusters of the latter.

Breach is the true story of Robert Hanssen, a CIA agent who spent several decades selling US Government secrets to the Soviet Union and then to Russian intelligence over the span of his career. The film follows a young field operative named Eric O’Neill (Ryan Philippe), initially assigned to assist Hanssen in a bogus technology project, who was enlisted in the CIA’s successful sting operation against Hanssen. After finding out the truth, O’Neill goes to work to find the damning evidence that would put Hanssen in an isolated prison cell for the rest of his life while trying to keep the man in the dark. It becomes an interesting cat and mouse game between the two, as O’Neill has to balance his admiration and respect for the man with the realization that Hanssen has cost the country billions of dollars in damage with his espionage.

And while he’s won an Academy Award already – for Spike Jonze’s Adaptation – Chris Cooper brings in perhaps the best performance of the first half of 2007 as the corrupt CIA agent. A devout Catholic, Hanssen is a mess of contradictions. Praying to God and attending mass daily, while lecturing on the power of faith, gives Hanssen a sense of righteousness and piety that makes it hard to believe the accusations against him. One goes through the same disbelief that O’Neill goes through as the film is set up so perfectly that when the truth comes out it gives a completely different look and feel to the film. Hanssen is so incredibly good at the role that it becomes hard to believe in the events that follow; Hanssen is a good family man and the picture of Americana. His betrayal is all the more hard to grasp because he’s set up as such a good human being as well as in such a good manner. This is the sort of role Cooper is definitely game for and he chews scenery with abandon. It’s a character with a lot of specific nuances to it and he does a masterful job pulling it off.

It doesn’t hurt that Breach‘s script is tight and well done. There’s a singular focus on bringing justice to the situation, but there’s also the side story of O’Neill trying to balance out the image he’s created in his mind of a man to be admired with the reality that Hanssen is nowhere near being that sort of person. Philippe is admirable in what really is a thankless role; the film is Cooper’s to command and everyone else is along for the ride. The script is set up so that those trying to bring Hanssen down aren’t in a position to have to carry the film. Their interactions with the man make the film what it is, especially the scenes between the star of Flags of our Fathers and Cooper, but the story is woven so that it really isn’t an actor’s movie. It’s a film that needs strong performances but wouldn’t have sunk without them. Cooper’s performance drives the film but it wouldn’t need it to be good; his portrayal of Hanssen is what makes it special.

The Audio

Presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 format, Breach has a terrific audio component. The film’s score and its dialogue come through wonderfully, as the film takes full advantage of the format.

The Video

Presented in a widescreen format with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the film has a terrific transfer to it as well. The film doesn’t have a lot of color or impressive visuals, but what it does show is shown well with great color separation.

The Extras

The really neat extra on the DVD is the Commentary, which features Ray and former FBI Agent Eric O’Neill discussing the film. It’s interesting to hear the real-life O’Neill discuss the case, et al., while the film is proceeding.

Deleted Scenes and Alternate Scenes are included and weren’t in the film for the usual reasons. There is a good scene between O’Neill and Hanssen as Hanssen berates O’Neill on his phone answering abilities.

“The Mole” originally was broadcast on Dateline March 5th of 2001. It’s interesting to see the real-life story behind the film, complete with visuals from key scenes and characters in the film. Hanssen’s story is interesting, as he went from being a Chicago police officer to a member of an elite unit in the FBI. The story itself is incredibly fascinating and explores the total story.

Anatomy of a Character is a special presentation by Volkswagen about Cooper’s portrayal of Hanssen. Mainly a fluff piece, it is interesting to see the real O’Neill and company discuss Cooper and how much he was able to bring out of the character using minimal interaction with the real Hanssen.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Breach
(OUT OF 10)